Friday, October 19, 2012
Poster of the Week
United Farm Workers Organizing Committee
Los Angeles, California
CSPG’s Poster of the Week is by Andy Zermeño, who volunteered for the farm workers movement for 14 years, helping to create their powerful graphic identity. Andy, along with Tom Morello and Joan Sekler will be honored by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics on Sunday, October 21st. For ticket information, please visit www.politicalgraphics.org
Andy was the first artist recruited by Cesar Chavez to design posters and other graphics for organizing farm workers—years before Chavez and Dolores Huerta formed the United Farm Workers Union. Andy’s longer bio is below, and a ten minute interview with him can be seen on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht7HG68Vwdk&list=PL70C2D0E57C05B32E&feature=plcp.
Andy describes this Huelga! poster:
I was just trying to show the spirit of the guys (who) were attacking the status quo…They were eager to get in there, eager to do something for themselves. That’s what impressed me, that’s what I wanted to show.
This powerful poster is both important and fascinating, not only for what it openly says, but for what it historically reveals. Every archive and library with a copy of this poster, from the UFW website to university collections, consistently dates it from 1965. CSPG research, however, raises a question. The sign on the farm worker’s chest says UFWOC, for the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, a precursor of the United Farm Workers (UFW). The problem with the 1965 date, is that UFWOC wasn’t created until 1966.
UFWOC formed from the merging of two groups, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by Filipino organizer Larry Itliong, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) co-founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. This union changed from a workers' rights organization that helped workers get unemployment insurance to that of a union of farm workers almost overnight, when the NFWA went out on strike in support of the mostly Filipino farmworkers of the AWOC in Delano, California, who had previously initiated a grape strike on September 8, 1965. The NFWA and the AWOC, recognizing their common goals and methods, and realizing the strengths of coalition formation, jointly formed the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee on August 22, 1966. This organization was accepted into the AFL-CIO in 1972 and changed its name to the United Farm Workers union (UFW).
Andy Zermeño Biography
Born in Salinas, California in 1935, Andy grew up in the mostly poor working class agricultural town of Soledad. He is the oldest of 5 brothers and sisters. His father was born in Mexico, and his mother is from Boyle Heights. In 1954, following high school graduation, Andy attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland on a scholarship. He worked as a set designer and production artist for KSBW-TV and worked summers as a state fruit inspector to finance college.
Andy credits his brother Alex for introducing him to the civil rights struggle for Mexican Americans. In Salinas, Alex was active in the Community Service Organization (CSO) founded by Saul Alinsky and Fred Ross. The CSO organized voter registration, participated in civic and political affairs, and fought discrimination against minorities. Cesar Chavez was in CSO at the time, and when Andy designed a logo for the organization, Chavez recognized his talent.
In 1958, Andy transferred to the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles to study painting and drawing, graduating in 1961 with a Bachelor of Professional Arts degree. When Cesar Chavez left the CSO in 1962 to organize farmworkers in Delano, he asked Andy to volunteer his artistic skills. Andy put the finishing touches on the design of the iconic UFW eagle, and created posters and graphics for the farmworkers for fourteen years. He created the look and the majority of the illustrations for UFW newspaper, El Malcriado, creating cartoon characters to educate often illiterate farmworkers about their rights and the need to join the union: Don Sotaco, the exploited farm worker; El Patron, the greedy landowner; and El Coyote, the brutal labor contractor. In 1965, the Mexican farm workers led by Chavez, Huerta and their National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), joined with striking Filipino farm workers who had started what became an historic grape strike and boycott. A year later, the Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) merged with the NFWA to create the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), precursor to the UFW. Andy created the powerful Huelga!/Strike poster to promote this historic collaboration, support the strike, and show the determination of the union members to achieve justice.
In 1970, Andy moved with his wife Anita, and their children, Claire, Greg, and Andrea, to Keene, California to work for the United Farm Workers for one year. In addition to continuing making art for El Malcriado, he created posters promoting strikes and boycotts—notably of Gallo Wine—benefit concert posters, as well as stamps and a calendar to be used as fundraisers to support union activities against nonunion produce. At the end of the year the family returned to Los Angeles to recover financially, but he continued to volunteer for the UFW. Andy worked as a freelance commercial illustrator, as a technical illustrator and writer of assembly instruction for Hughes Aerospace Company, and was the owner of a solar power design firm. He retired in 1998 to dedicate more time to painting, sculpture, and other personal projects.
CSPG is honoring Andy Zermeño, along with activist/documentary filmmaker Joan Sekler and musician/activist Tom Morello, on Sunday, October 21, 2012, from 3-7 in Hollywood. Following the awards program, Morello will perform a 30-40 minute set. For more information about the event, please go to www.politicalgraphics.org