Before farmworkers’ rights activist Mily Treviño-Sauceda left the stage at this year’s “The Long Conversation,” an annual event that brings together more than two dozen thinkers for an eight-hour relay of two-person dialogues at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, she led the crowd in chanting the Spanish phrase: ¡Si, Se Puede!
In English, the phrase means, “yes, we can,” and “si, se puede” is the rallying cry of the United Farm Workers (UFW). The mantra is rich in history, and it originated with UFW co-founder and civil rights activist, Dolores Huerta. Hearing Treviño-Sauceda, one of today’s leaders of the contemporary farmworkers movement, unite the crowd using the words of an iconic woman of the movement’s past was powerful.
Treviño-Sauceda is the co-founder of Alianza de Campesinas, a group that advocates for the rights of farmworker women—or campesinas—on many issues, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, basic employment rights, health care, education, housing and immigration. She and her colleague and co-founder Mónica Ramírez were awarded this year’s Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for Social Progress, for their work bringing systemic sexual abuse within the farmworkers community into the spotlight.
Treviño-Sauceda says women are the organizers of the family, and the more informed they are the more likely they are to create change. In her teens, she worked in fields in California and she was repeatedly assaulted at work. She didn’t have the support or resources to turn to at the time, and it took her nearly 20 years to finally talk about what happened to her, she says.
“Because of the stigma and myths and taboos, I wasn’t willing to talk about it. I didn’t want to be shamed publicly,” she says. When she finally did, she learned that others in her community suffered the same abuse or worse. It was then that she realized they needed to organize. The courageous women who come forward with their stories and seek out resources have helped their group become a strong force in the Time’s Up movement, which has gained significant visibility.
“That gives me hope,” she adds.
Reflecting on the brief conversation they shared, performance poet Jacqueline Suskin wrote a poem live on stage:
The Tool of Togetherness
Taken into the worth of work
This action wraps us closer
Steady with the certainty that we can fall back into the realm of connection
We are able to find the foundation of reflection here
This grand tether to all familiar and familial
All that allows for change to continue
While we unfurl in unison
Never a voice alone in the dark