By Cesar Arredondo
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
When the national non-profit Farmworker Justice presented its 2022 annual awards last week to advocates for those who toil in agricultural fields across the US, Hollywood actor and former San Fernando Valley resident Fabian Alomar had to be there.
“My grandparents were farm workers and I know that my parents also worked a little in the fields as kids,” says the FX series “Mayan MC” actor who lived in Panorama City and Van Nuys years ago.
On Sept. 14, Alomar was among hundreds of attendees at the Farmworker Justice Los Angeles Awards at Plaza de la Raza, a renowned Latino cultural center in Lincoln Heights that was transformed with a dramatic and festive entryway and a greeting from a couple dressed as catrinas, and giant figures on each side of the stage designed by artist Ricardo Soltero. Encouraged by organizers, some guests dressed as famous Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
This year’s recipients are Teresa Romero, president of United Farm Workers, UFW; DeVon Franklin, award-winning producer and New York Times bestselling author; Shura Wallin, border activist who co-founded the humanitarian group Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritan; and “Weeds” and “Blood In Blood Out” actor and filmmaker Enrique Castillo, himself a former child farmworker from Calexico.
Romero was praised for breaking new ground as the first Latina and first immigrant woman to become president of a national union in the United States. She was formerly the union’s secretary-treasurer, handling financial management, staff recruitment, personnel, fundraising and social media operations. Romero also worked closely with elected UFW leaders as chair of the union’s audit and finance committee and helped raise $1 million to build the union’s new state-of-the-art 10,294-square foot facility in Salinas serving the nation’s largest concentration of unionized farm workers.
An immigrant from Mexico, Romero is proud of her Mexican and Zapotec indigenous heritage. As UFW president, she has been in discussions with the Mexican government to help put emphasis on the dairy and agricultural industries that refuse to hire women, developing a system to be used in both the US and Mexico that also helps create an environment in which women are no longer enduring verbal, mental and sexual abuse.
Border activist Wallin is the recipient of the Shelley Davis Humanitarian Award. Her group, Green Valley-Sahuarita Samaritan, has reportedly saved countless lives by dropping water bottles on various desert routes believed to be used by undocumented immigrants crossing the Arizona-Mexico border searching for a better life, including work on the farms. The volunteer organization also sends teams to desert back roads to assist anyone suffering from heat stroke, severe cold, dehydration, exhaustion or injuries.
Filmmaker and author Franklin received the Social Justice in the Arts Award for his commitment to diversity in the movie industry. Also a motivational speaker, he wrote the best-selling books “The Hollywood Commandments” and “The Wait,” with the latter making the New York Times best-sellers list. The African-American producer’s credits include the award-winning films “The Star” and “Breakthrough.” His next film is “Flamin’ Hot,” a biopic about the life of a child farmworker and janitor who reportedly created Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, a high-selling snack popular among youngsters. Directed by Eva Longoria, the movie features a Latino-majority cast starring Jesse Garcia and Annie Gonzalez.
The Farmworker Justice Award went to farmworker-turned-actor Castillo for his work with Teatro Campesino, a Chicano theater company founded in 1965 reportedly as the cultural arm of the UFW. The group created short plays about the farm workers that were performed on flatbed trucks and in union halls. Castillo, a Calexico native who worked in the fields as a child, wrote and directed “Veteranos: A Legacy of Valor,” a play about Latinos in the military. The veteran thespian’s film credits include the series “Weeds” and the films “Blood In, Blood Out,” “Nixon” and “Deja Vu.”
“I am delighted to start my tenure at Farmworker Justice by honoring these four individuals who continue to fight for justice for America’s farmworkers,” says Ron Estrada, the recently installed chief executive of Farm Worker Justice. “Through their work, they remind us all of the important role that our ‘trabajadores agrícolas’ play, picking the fruits and vegetables that American families consume every day.”
He added that farm workers are often invisible to the general public but are the “frontline heroes that feed America.”
Actor Alomar, the former Valley resident agrees with Romero. He knows that from personal experience. While his family worked in the fields several decades ago, it was only recently that Romero reconnected with his “campesino” roots while working with director Longoria. “When I was filming ‘Flamin’ Hot,’ she opened my eyes to the farm work justice … and how we need to be supportive,” says Alomar.
Now here he was — Alomar, the grandson of farm workers, at the Farm Worker Justice Awards at Plaza de la Raza, proudly talking about his grandparents on a red carpet along with other Hollywood stars like Constance Marie of “La Bamba” and “George Lopez” fame, Pepe Serna of “Scarface” and “The PJ’s,” Hector Atreyu Ruiz of “NCIS” and Marco Parra of “The Central Authority,” as well as legendary singer Charo.
“My grandparents were born in Mexico and immigrated here,” says Alomar. “They came first to Stockton to go work in the cherry fields and then eventually came down … to Bakersfield and [later] made their way to Los Angeles back in the 20s and 30s.” He adds, “Even my parents worked briefly in the fields as kids.”
The actor adds that he now wants to stay involved in the fight for farm worker justice. “I want to know how much workers are getting paid, how they’re getting treated as they’re working. Are they taking breaks [after] being in the hot sun? Are they wearing protective gear? Are they getting water and staying hydrated?”
He concludes, “I’m here at the Farm Worker Awards supporting farm workers because I come from that lifestyle. And I’m what I am today thanks to my parents and grandparents who worked in the fields here in California.”