As Rosalinda Guillen talks about Community to Community — the organization she started to spread awareness and bring social justice to farmworkers in the community — she sits beneath two distinctive pictures. One is of her inspiration, civil rights activist and co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association, Caesar Chavez. The other is one of her achievements: a group photo of farm workers from Château Ste. Michelle Winery with organizers — her included — who had just successfully won a union contract. These are the things that drive Guillen as she fights for farmworkers rights — the people that have inspired her, the things she has experienced, and the battles she has won.
Guillen was raised in labor camps as the oldest of eight children. She worked on a farm in La Conner with her brothers and sisters. She soon became a teen mother with two sons. Shes continued to support herself through farm working, until she was hired at Baker Boyer Bank in Walla Walla. She worked at banks around the state until 1993 — April 23, to be exact. “That was the day Caesar Chavez died,” Guillen said. She became fully involved in fighting for farm workers’ rights.
“I was so disconnected from all the social democratic structures of this country. I was just focused on survival,” she said. “I had even forgotten how to speak Spanish.” She learned about the generations of farmworkers becoming poorer and poorer as agro-corporations that controlled the farms got richer and richer. She learned about the farm worker movement. And she learned how to spur change in things that needed to be changed.
This growing awareness got her involved in organizing boycotts against the farms that were mistreating farmworkers, which, in turn, lead to the picture that hangs proudly on her wall. “The work that I do is about ensuring that the consumers understand that farmworkers play a key role in the food that they buy at the grocery store,” she said. “There has to be some recognition and value given to us.”
In 2001, Guillen founded Community to Community, which works with immigrant farm workers to develop a nutritional information project, farm worker-owned cooperatives, and supported and organizes boycotts of farms that are mistreating workers — most recently, Sakuma Bros. Farms in Burlington. The co-winner of the 2014 Food Sovereignty Prize, Guillen’s hard work has earned her everything from praise to criticism, but she doesn’t let any of it stop her in her fight for justice in her community. As the need continues, so does her work.