Gilbert Padilla is recognized as a significant labor leader and outstanding community organizer. His contribution and untiring efforts, passion, personal sacrifice and commitment to farm worker social justice significantly contributed to the creation and development of the first successful farm workers' union in the United States. His outstanding effort, and those of many others, established The United Farmworkers Union (UFW), AFL-CIO in 1972. The UFW became the change agent that brought about political, economic and social change to thousands of farm workers and their families toiling in the rich agricultural fields of our nation.
Gilbert Padilla and Cesar E. Chavez are recognized as the original co-founders of the farm worker movement that led to the creation and establishment of the United Farmworkers Union. Padilla served as Vice President and Secretary – Treasurer of the UFW.
Brief family history
Gilbert’s family is traced to Saltillo, Coahuilla, Mexico. His grandparents were Juan Padilla and Remedios Figueroa, a Huichol Indian. His father, Longino Figueroa Padilla, was born on March 15, 1892 in Saltillo, Coahuilla, Mexico and was raised on the Hacienda de Maguey, in Zacatecas, Mexico. His mother, Sabina “Juana” Cabrera was born on August 29, 1898 on the Hacienda de Cieneguilla.
The Padilla family fled Zacatecas, Mexico like thousands of other Mexican families fleeing the war zones of the Mexican Revolution. The family traveled on train to el Norte by way of Juarez, Chihuahua and crossed into El Paso, Texas. From Texas, the Padilla’s travelled to the San Bernardino, California area to a railroad settlement called Bagdad. Gilbert’s father, Longino, found employment with the railroad, and after another short period of time, relocated to Azusa, California where they purchased property and made this city their new home.
In 1925, the Padilla’s migrated to the Los Banos, California area to follow the crops and pick cotton and tree fruit. The Padilla family found housing in a labor camp called the San Juan Camp located near what is called the Dos Palos Y.
Gilbert had seven brothers, Abbie, Santos, John, David, Benny, Charles, Joe and one sister, Virginia.
During World War II the Padilla brothers responded to the call of duty to serve their country. Gilbert served with the U.S. Army, 1st Calvary Division and was stationed in Japan. Gilbert was part of the massive reconstruction effort to rebuild Japan. He was a combat engineer and operated heavy equipment.
After the war ended, Gilbert returned to Los Banos and found bleak employment opportunities. Agricultural field work was scarce due to Mexican braceros that were hired to do the work. However, Gilbert found employment in the cleaning business and learned the trade well. He was first employed in the cleaning business in Los Banos, California and later moved on to a cleaning business in Hanford, California.
Gilbert, Cesar Chavez and CSO
In 1955, Gilbert met Cesar Chavez in Hanford, California. Cesar was working for the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights organization, and enlisted the assistance of Gilbert who became a volunteer of the organization for several years. Cesar hired Gilbert as a staff member of CSO in 1960 and he worked with Cesar as a community organizer up until 1962.
At the March, 1962 CSO convention, Cesar proposed a farmworker program be adopted by the organization. The CSO did not approve the program and Cesar resigned from the organization on April 15, 1962.
The decision of CSO to not approve the farmworker program was the spark that gave impetus to Chavez and Padilla to begin organizing farmworkers that led to the creation and establishment of the United Farmworkers Union in 1972. Huelga, Boycott Grapes and Si Se Puede became the rallying call of thousands of volunteers and students of the Chicano Movement, and others, that joined and actively supported the farmworker cause.
Please consider reading the following books about the struggles and accomplishments of the United Farmworkers Union, Cesar Chavez, Gilbert Padilla, UFW staff, and the farmworkers:
Garcia, M. (2012). From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, and
Pawel, M. (2014). The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
Gilbert Padilla’s first marriage was to Dolores Duarte and they had seven children, Rebecca, Martha, Tomas, Yolanda, Jenny, Jimmy and Sherry.
Gilbert’s second marriage was to Esther Negrete and together they had one daughter, Adelita. The Padilla’s made Fresno, California their home. Esther passed away on March 13, 2013.
Present Activity Gilbert resides in Fresno, California and continues to be busy as ever. He leads an active life with his family and circle of friends. Former huelgistas and friends visit and stay in touch with Gilbert regularly. He doesn’t drive but is always on the go. Gilbert is an information resource and always makes time for individuals interested in the farmworker struggle and history.