In the summer of 1971 the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA), the world’s first farmworkers union, were engaged in difficult, often bloody organizing struggles in the fields of California's Central Valley.  As an emerging singer/ songwriter i was invited to attend a community feed near the Union’s headquarters in Delano, which is how i came to write this song, performed for a couple of hundred union folk and their families, including Cesar Chevez, founder of the Union, for whom the song was written. 
 

The Farmworker’s Song
For Cesar Chavez (1931-1993)
©1971, 1999 richard chilton

richard chilton


 In the dust and sun of California
Through years of harsh neglect
In the pre-dawn hours at the edge of the night
Through summer’s heat and sweat 
Lived the young and old migrant families 
Of ancient brocero fame 
They trekked up north from the borderlands 
To Calexico and Gonzales
To Healdsburg, the lettuce and grapes
Their trade the fruits of the earth
Their toil a truth for America
     A truth for America
     Yes, a truth for America

Their surnames were Torres Santiago 
Murrieta and Alvarez
Their hands were from mothers and children
Their feet from fathers and the old
Their faces bore eyes of sadness and hope
Their tears of the dead and unborn
Whose lives were so poor and rootless
Who lived in one-room shacks
Six weeks to the end of harvest came
Or the sheriff arrived with the shotgun claim
To move them on their nomadic way
     Their ancient nomadic way
     Yes, their ancient nomadic way

In the days when agri-business
Bought the earth of the Golden State
The swallows their left their nesting grounds
At San Juan they no longer wait
And the oil fields of Kern County
Become dry as the crisp foxtail fur
And the coastal ranges of Los Padres
The parched throat of a farmworker
In the time before the Union
In the time before the struggle
In the time before, in the time ahead,
     And the time ahead is now
     Yes, that time ahead’s right now.

So take the banner and take this song
And raise your voices high
And let the eagle with wings outstretched
Fly high over that Western sky
And let the people from the South and the East
At the time of their daily feats
When they reach for the fruit or the salad green
The wine to savor their taste
Know it is the cause of La Raza
And the farmworkers carry on
The traditions of all working people
     In the 1970’s
     Yes, the 1970’s

 


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