Some 500 people from Lodi and other agricultural regions marched in solidarity Sunday through Lodi and Acampo in search of improved working conditions for farm workers.
Today, after a breakfast cooked by parishioners at St. Christopher's Catholic Church and a special prayer and blessing by Father Robert Copsey, farm workers and their supporters will walk to Thornton on their way to the State Capitol. They hope to reach the Capitol by noon Wednesday.
Called a pilgrimage, the walk is in honor of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, the 17-year-old Lodi girl who died on May 16 after working in 95-degree heat two days earlier at West Coast Grape Farming in Farmington.
Jimenez's funeral on Wednesday at St. Anne's Catholic Church attracted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pledged to further strengthen enforcement of laws regarding farm workers toiling in extreme heat.
On Sunday, family members and United Farm Workers members attended the Spanish-language Mass at St. Anne's at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday before marching toward Sacramento.
Most of the approximately 500 marchers stopped on Acampo Road for lunch, and those who came on one of the 10 charter buses from out of town had to go home, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said. That left only about 40 to march the rest of the way to Galt, where they were welcomed with a large dinner by St. Christopher's parish members.
Buses came from the southern San Joaquin, Salinas, Napa and Sonoma valleys.
While walking on the western frontage road off Highway 99 near Acampo Road on Sunday afternoon, long-time Lodi resident Maria Zamora recalled having to walk up to 10 minutes to the restroom when she was a farm worker about five years ago.
Meanwhile, Alma Rodriguez wasn't aware of the march until she attended Sunday's Mass. She then decided to join them.
"I wanted to support the girl," Rodriguez said. "I don't know if I can walk every day."
A Lodi resident, Vargas is a housekeeping employee at Lodi Memorial Hospital, so her job will keep her there instead of pounding the pavement today through Wednesday.
The United Farm Workers union became involved after Jimenez's uncle, Doroteo, sought assistance from the union about the working conditions surrounding Jimenez's death.
Jimenez's death drew much greater publicity than the 2005 death of Maria Laticia Fonseca Quintero, 37, of Galt, who was crushed by a grape harvester.
Reyna Castellano of Porterville, UFW's external coordinator who arranged lunch and dinner for the marchers, said she wasn't familiar with Quintero's death, but the union won't get in the middle of something unless their assistance is requested.
Castellano said that after working with St. Christopher's parishioners in Galt on Saturday and Sunday to host the UFW members marching to Sacramento, she now has more contacts in Galt. She said she would hope that Galt farm workers will contact the union in the event tragedy or some kind of perceived injustice happens in the Galt area.
Neither Jimenez nor anyone in her family were United Farm Workers members, Rodriguez acknowledged. She also was an undocumented worker, he added.
Rodriguez said he will make some requests once the union reaches the State Capitol on Wednesday, but he wouldn't say beforehand what those requests will be.
The pilgrimage took a rather circuitous route to Galt. In fact, they called it a day at about 7:30 p.m. on Woodson Road near Forest Lake Golf Course. They took cars the rest of the way to St. Christopher's, where parishioners had a large feast waiting for them.
Some in the pilgrimage spent the night at the old St. Christopher's chapel on Third and F streets, while others stayed at parishioners' homes. Today, the itinerary calls for a special prayer and blessing by Copsey at St. Christopher's and breakfast cooked by the parish before returning to Woodson Road and continuing their walk.
They are due at Mater Ecclesiae Catholic Church in Thornton late today, said Paula Soto, who is organizing the Thornton gathering.
- Sunday - Mass at St. Anne's Catholic Church on West Walnut Street in Lodi. From there, they walked west on Walnut, north on Hutchins Street, northwest on Holly Drive, north on Mills Avenue, west on Turner Road, north on Lower Sacramento Road, east on Acampo Road, north on the western frontage road of Highway 99 and northwest on Woodson Road almost to Lower Sacramento Road. They took cars to St. Christopher's Catholic Church in Galt.
- Today - Special prayer and blessing by Father Robert Copsey at 8 a.m. at St. Christopher's, breakfast at St. Christopher's, walk to Mater Ecclesiae Catholic Church in Thornton. The official itinerary provided by United Farm Workers indicates that they will be received at Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel in Thornton, but Paula Soto, who is organizing the Thornton event, said on Sunday that it would be at Mater Ecclesiae.
- Tuesday - Walk from Thornton to St. Luke's Lutheran Church in South Sacramento.
- Wednesday: Arrive at State Capitol at about noon.
Source: United Farm Workers
Mission statement: "To provide farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society's bounty."
President: Arturo Rodriguez, who took over the head position when Chavez died in 1993.
Offices: Throughout the United States, but California offices are in Delano, Oxnard, Watsonville, Greenfield and Santa Rosa.
Source: United Farm Workers