Someday, you could be a farmworker organizer . . . just like Armando Elenes.

Photo courtesy United Farm Workers of America
Photo courtesy United Farm Workers of America

BY ILONA BRAY

Armando helps farmworkers learn that no employer is allowed to underpay them or treat them badly. He has two jobs with the United Farmworkers Union (UFW), which was founded by Cesar Chavez. He is in charge of San Joaquin Valley, California operations—helping farmworkers get medical care and negotiate for higher pay (some earn as little as $2 an hour) and better treatment (many work in extreme heat and are exposed to dangerous chemicals). He’s also on the UFW executive board, helping decide how to improve workers’ lives across the country by supporting certain political candidates or organizing publicity campaigns.

As a kid, did you ever imagine you’d someday be a farmworker organizer?

I had no idea! I got to this country when I was seven, from Mexico. I’d watch my dad pick cherries and apricots, and later milk cows, but more than anything I wanted to go to college. I started learning about the farmworkers’ struggle for rights and volunteered to spread the word. Now I’m being paid to do what I love.

How does your job help bring about change in the world?

When you empower people that they have certain rights and can speak and change things, it changes them—nobody can ever take that away.

Any tips for kids interested in doing similar work?

There’s no school for what we do! Start by volunteering, maybe at a shelter or workers’ rights center, just to see what’s really happening in the world around you. Also, travel around the U.S. and beyond, to see how people live. Even here, there are workers still living in the fields or sleeping in their cars and working to survive.