Remembering Albert “Beto” Medrano Rojas
July 31, 1938 – March 20, 2020
It was January of 2018 at a binational conference in Carson at Cal State Dominguez when I first heard Al speak. Wearing his signature Sahuayo sombrero and a white guayabera, he spoke passionately, and with such conviction that his voice stopped me in my tracks. When we were introduced I was surprised that he knew of my activism. We exchanged phone numbers and soon began speaking regularly. Over the next 3 years he would tell me of his activism, his struggles, his heartbreaks and his childhood.
Albert Joseph Medrano Rojas, born July 31, 1938 in Visalia, California. Al’s parents used a peach crate made of pine wood with a peach label on the outside as a cradle. He would start working in the cotton fields of Visalia at a very young age alongside family members, he knew first hand the exploitative and marginalized conditions in which many farm workers continue to be treated. Al’s mother, Gabriela Medrano was from New Mexico, and his father, Rafael Anguiano Rojas, was from Briseñas, Michoacán,
Al was a lifelong activist and international community leader that dedicated his life working tirelessly to advocate for farmworkers and was co-founder of the United Farmworkers of America. Throughout his life he fought for labor rights, the poor, indigenous rights and the plight of migrants, a cause which he championed until his death.
Al was instrumental in the Delano Grape strike and organized in Pittsburgh from 1968 to 1970. After growers signed contracts with the UFW Al became the field office director, in charge of more than 5,000 farmworkers. In 1973 he became the Northern California Organizing Director to administer grape contracts in Napa and Sonoma. We spent several days Labor Day weekend of 2020 in wine country where he showed me where he would have meetings and a piece of land he wanted to purchase a few miles from the bed and breakfast where we stayed.
Al founded the North Americans for Democracy in Mexico (1989-1992) and sent election observers. In 1994 after the Zapatistas came to rise in Chiapas he founded the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition in support of the Zapatista Indigenous movement and its opposition to the North American Trade Agreement which he spoke out against until his passing.
Known locally in Sacramento and through California and Mexico for his boisterous spirit of speaking for the marginalized and against white supremacy, police brutality and for the working class. Al organized actions against police brutality, for Black Lives Matter, for Palestinian rights and always brought attention to the Driscoll’s Boycott.
Al was an icon to many here in the states, as he was in Mexico. Since Al’s passing, so many people have reached out to me to tell me what we meant to them and what an impact he had on their lives. Al had an impact on so many, just as he had on me, and it is a reflection of the kind of organizer, activist and mentor he was to so many people of all ages, backgrounds and demographic. He touched everyone he came in contact with and he always made people feel that they could make a difference in the community. Al was the real deal. Al meant so much to so many and despite his small stature he was a force of nature. Al advised me on my campaign, personal matters and political matters. We spoke daily, sometimes for hours. Al was an abundance of knowledge and his life was that of a man who cared for his people and the betterment of society. He was working on his autobiography and days before his passing he spoke to his biographer and asked that he prepare to receive us in Mexico City. He wanted us to stay in Tepoztlan, Morelos, said to be the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the Azteca feathered serpent god, for he and I to stay, where he could complete his autobiography.
Beto was my friend, my mentor, my confidant and the love of my life and I feel so fortunate to have had him in my life. I know that one day I will see him again and we will take long walks, holding hands, with the sun on our faces telling our stories just as we planned.
Te quiero hoy y para siempre Beto.
Maria Estrada April 3, 2021