Prominent Labor Activists You Should Know: Jessie De La Cruz

Prominent Labor Activists You Should Know: Jessie De La Cruz

We are so excited to continue exploring women who are prominent labor activists in honor of Women’s History Month. This week we want to shed light on Jessie De La Cruz’s much needed and appreciated efforts during the 60’s.

Jessie De La Cruz's Early Life

Jessie De La Cruz was a pioneering figure in the fight for labor rights for farmworkers in the United States. Born Jesuita “Jessie” Lopez in 1919, in Anaheim, California, De La Cruz was the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She was the oldest of three daughters in a pretty big extended family. Her family consisted of her mom, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They were poor and migrated often for work. 

Jessie was no stranger to the labor force. She began working at the young age of five years old. It was her job to prune vines, pick cotton, fruits, and vegetables. Her family worked as a unit, being paid very little while the children worked for free. When Jessie was not working, she attended school. But since she moved around so much, she attended many schools, 45 to be exact. 


De La Cruz resided in Anaheim, California with her family until she was nine. In 1929, she and her family migrated north to Arvin, California for work. Unfortunately, shortly after, tragedy soon struck her family. Jessie’s aunt Maria, who was more like a sister since they were close in age, died after her dress caught fire. In January 1930, her mom Guadalupe became ill and was bedridden in February. She died shortly after on March 11, 1930. Jessie and her sisters returned to Anaheim under their grandparents’ care, but unfortunately, her grandfather Basillo died June 14, 1930 after returning to the cotton field to support the girls. By 1931, the Lopez family once again became migrant workers, pitching a tent roadside to survive. 

Prominent Labor Activists You Should Know: Jessie De La Cruz

The Beginning of Change

In 1932, Jessie and her family migrated to San Clemente and later to San Juan Capistrano. It was in San Juan Capistrano where Jessie had her first encounter with protestors. A man from the Mexican Consulate was protesting and asked Jessie for help since she was one of the few people who were bilingual there. She later recalled that moment and expressed how useful she felt during that time. It is likely that moment propelled her when she encountered other protests. In 1933, after returning to Arvin, California, she sprung into action, joining another strike, but that was only the beginning.

During that same year, Jessie met her husband Arnulfo “Arnold” De La Cruz. They got married December 18, 1938 and had six children. They settled in Huron, California and worked for the Russell Giffen Cotton Company. Jessie also worked on a food truck serving Braceros. It was during this time she became more vocal about the injustices laborers faced while working the fields. She witnessed farmers working in brutally hot weather while receiving unfair wages, racial discrimination, foremen stealing workers federal and state taxes, and more. 


In December 1965, Arnold teamed up with Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and the National Farm Workers Association NFWA (later known as the United Farm Workers of America UFW). They held meetings at De La Cruz’s home. Jessie soon became involved, recruiting the most members all year round in Parlier, Reedley, Orange Cove, and Dinuba. Soon the NFWA joined the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) in protesting. Jessie along with others fought on issues such as the long-term health effects farming had on its workers, harsh labor conditions, unequal pay, discrimination, and more. 


In 1968, Jessie managed the first UFW hiring hall which was built next to her house. It was her job to collect dues, organize protests and rallies, write letters, distribute donated goods, and more. She was also an interpreter for farmers who did not speak English. She would often testify at their labor hearings. Jessie also fought for food stamps and education rights for farmers. She “was eventually appointed to community and state organizations like the Fresno County Economic Opportunity Commission, the Central California Action Associates (CCAA), and California’s Commission on the Status of Women.” The Central California Action Associates started a local TV show where Jessie taught English for a short period. 

Prominent Labor Activists You Should Know: Jessie De La Cruz

More Accomplishments

Prominent Labor Activists You Should Know: Jessie De La Cruz

Like Rosina Tucker, Jessie had her fair share of hardship simply because she was a woman. Like many women, she came from a male-dominated home. Many of her peers did not want to take orders or be led by a woman, even though they were more likely to protest, recruit, educate, and organize. This did not stop her progress. She went on to consult other organizations and encouraged them to become more inclusive to women. 


Jessie was relentless and courageous and will always be remembered for her hard work and the change in the farming industry. Here are more facts we should know about her:



  • Jessie De La Cruz continued her activism with the UFW, organizing boycotts and strikes and negotiating contracts for farmworkers.
  • She was also involved in community organizing and served on the board of directors for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, which provides legal services to low-income rural communities.


1980s and beyond:


  • Jessie De La Cruz retired from the UFW in the 1980s, but continued to be active in labor and community organizing.
  • She received numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award and induction into the California Hall of Fame.
  • De La Cruz remained a respected and beloved figure in the farmworker community until her passing in 2013 at the age of 93.


Jessie leaves behind a legacy as a trailblazer for women and farmworkers in the labor movement, and for that we are thankful. 

%d bloggers like this: