Dona Josefina Flores Cervantes has participated in virtually every major United Farmworker campaign and event for decades and has witnessed the triumphs and sacrifices of the movement. At 92, she passed away peacefully in Visalia on Monday June 26. Josefina, Carolina Holguin and Ruth Martinez were among a small group of seasoned agricultural activists who organized and engaged with UFW into their 70s, 80s and beyond. His death drew tributes.
Dolores Huerta, farm worker and civil rights icon, said Josefina was present at every march, picket line and event. She was a true farm labor warrior. “She was tough,” Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez said. “She looked after a large family, but a fierce loyalty to the sisters and brothers of her working family was a striking feature of her life,” said UFW 2nd Vice President Giev Kashkooli. “Josefina was one of the true pioneers of the farmworker movement who never stopped participating,” said UFW President Emeritus Arturo S. Rodriguez. She participated in the Delano-Sacramento pilgrimages of 1966, 1994, and 2022. She joined other farmworkers’ long journeys along dusty rural roads to the State Capitol, often in the summer heat, to help win important legislative and regular UFW victories. Her family demanded that UFW officials not let her march to Sacramento at age 90.
On March 31, 2021, Cesar Chavez’s birthday, Josefina accompanied her great-grandchildren to help First Lady Dr. Jill Biden vaccinate farm workers at the movement’s iconic Forty Acres ranch near Delano . The fourth generation of Josefina leads the fight. She was born in Calexico, California to a Yaqui family from Sonora on October 24, 1930. “That’s where she got her warrior blood,” Magdalena said. She learned to read and write on her own.
Josefina met Cesar Chavez in the 1960s in Reedley, Fresno County, after decades of migrant farm work. She was surprised to find a short, unassuming man. The experience changed her. Strikes, boycotts, marches, protests and political campaigns followed for decades. The UFW taught him English. A shooting in the countryside left her seriously injured. Josefina organized the lettuce boycott in Chicago and New York. Despite pleas from her family, she fasted until she was 80. At the White House, she met Hillary Clinton, the Kennedys and Obama.
Josefina has inspired generations of young UFW organizers and staff. Giev Kashkooli recalls Josephina “was very direct with workers” as a rookie labor organizer in the 1990s and 2000s. She said, “If you want to change your life, you have to do something. She was kind but firm. She taught me to challenge people to action. “How you could be both patient and urgent at the same time,” added Giev. “Mejo is good, but we have to work harder,” said Josefina. At Keene, she babysat the children of UFW workers and officials and cooked for Cesar Chavez. Josefina lives at Forty Acres Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village outside of Delano. She has lived in Casa Hernandez, the Cesar Chavez Foundation’s affordable seniors’ housing neighborhood west of Delano, for nearly 20 years.
Josefina Flores had two children, Yolanda Herrera and Maria De Los Angeles Zazueta Gomez (five died); nine grandchildren (two are deceased); 14 great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren. His son-in-law, Humberto Gomez Sr., organized UFW for more than 20 years. Five generations carry his ideas of democratic union and “Si Se Puede!” attitude. Granddaughter Magdalena Gomez is a community college administrator and associate director of the Fresno teachers’ union. California Democratic Party Regional Director Humberto Gomez Jr. MD, Fresno Bilingual Radio Producer Maria de Jesus Gomez is his granddaughter. UFW’s 335-mile walk in Fresno County last summer included great-grandchildren.