“But everything we talk about, with social justice, I can go back to Catholic – all the documents, whether it’s Scripture, church teaching, it’s right there.”
Lucy Boutte describes how she first got involved with the farm worker movement and the difference between charity and justice in the work of NFWM.
Lucy Boutte: Yeah. I was born in Mexico, Chihuahua. We came out here when I was very young, in Texas, San Juan, Texas. I remember when I was little, maybe 4 or 5, there were some, we had those little TVs. Actually it wasn’t ours, it was our neighbor’s, and I remember being there with the whole family watching the news, and there was a disturbance, some rioting with some blacks, and I was tiny. I remember I got so mad I just stood up and held my hands on my waist and I said, “When I grow up, I’m going to marry a black man,” like that was going to take care of this. [Laughs.] But, just watching that, I think, marked me and, you know, “That shouldn’t happen,” as a child. So, growing up, not too much, except my dad always, always took in people. We were a large family, but there was always somebody that needed some help, you know, staying with us, so it’s part of charity.
But then, I think, in my teens, late teens, my dad became involved with the Mexican American Political Association in, in LA. They started a chapter, and he was the first chairperson or president of the chapter in Pico Rivera. At one point we went to a convention and I went, and César Chavez spoke, and that marked me, so we started, I started collecting food and taking it on caravans to Delano, that kind of stuff, and a few months down the road, or during those first years, I think, they, the boycott was beginning, the Great Boycott and, César used to have, I don’t remember how I found out, I guess it was through MAPA, conducting house meetings, in East LA, on First Street near the cemetery. I don’t remember the house or the street but it was on First Street near the cemetery in East LA, and I lived in La Puente, which is a little distanced, of course we don’t have transportation and I used to have to borrow cars, taken without my parents knowing and that kind of stuff to go to the houses meetings. [Laughs]
So I did that and helped out with the boycotting in East LA on Beverly and Atlantic, somewhere around there. There was a market, and we used it for the boycott. Then things quieted down after the boycott, and the house meetings I wasn’t able to continue. I think that had I continued the house meetings, I would have been involved all that time with César. But I didn’t have transportation and my parents’ “No, you can’t go” and that kind of stuff, and we’re Mexican, so we do what our parents tell us to do. [Laughs] So, yeah, that started it, I think that set a, a seed, so when I was invited to come to UFW, of course in 2001, I think, yeah, to come organize, it was, of course, that was what I felt I wanted to do at the time, and I didn’t get to do much of that. That was an exciting piece, so that’s how I started that. So there was something already there and my, my father’s very much an activist, especially in Mexico. That’s partly why he came. My mother got scared. They were teachers in Mexico, and they were organizing teachers, and it got a little hot, but they came out here.
Lucy Boutte: The definite difference, and I always knew it, and my dad did, too. You know, charity is good, and you need to do it when it’s there in front of you. It’s about something immediate that has to happen. But if you don’t get to the source of any of it, then it’ll never end. And the Bible tells you, you know, the Lord said the poor will always be with us. In a way the poor are here so they can make us more human, you know? So there’s a difference, they both have to happen. But we tend to do it the easy way and to me, charity is the easy way to give. It’s easy, I’m done, no commitment, no, you know, that’s it.
But, if I do justice, you know, if I look for social change, I would work towards it. Then, it means I have to give a little bit more of myself, and I have to stretch myself often to points that I didn’t think I possibly could. And it’s they that changes, you know, the people that are suffering that injustice, the ones that educate us, I think, or educate me, teach me, show me, pull from me whatever it is that’s necessary, you know. At the same time, I think they don’t have the tools to do it themselves. So they have a voice, but they don’t have a platform from which to express it. So what we try to do is help them and bring them to that platform. Take them out of the shadows and have them tell their story. And that’s it. When they tell their story, there’s nothing more powerful than hearing straight from the person who suffered it.
With immigration reform, it’s been incredible the stories that we’ve been hearing, that we’ve always known were there. But now, there is a voice, you know, with the DREAMers, we’ve done wonderful work, telling the suffering that’s going on, and there’s this energy and vitality and they lack the fear that some adults have. Oh, we can’t alienate our church, we can’t do this or that. That’s why I’m glad I volunteer with a church, because they can’t fire me, and I do enough of what they want me to do that they’d rather keep me on board, I think. Of course I don’t do anything terribly unorthodox or whatever. … But everything we talk about, with social justice, I can go back to Catholic – all the documents, whether it’s Scripture, church teaching, it’s right there. They can’t say “Hey. No, you can’t do that.” Talk to your Pope and the Vatican about this and tell me I can’t do it…