Frank Bardacke is a community activist in Watsonville, California, where he has been vitally important to the Mexican-American/Mexican community and to the workers in nearby vegetable fields and packing sheds. Rejecting the role of “organizer” and the idea that “politics” must be done by professionals, Frank has served his community for twenty five years by “just joining in the politics of local daily life.”
Following a decade of civil rights and anti-war work, Frank took a job in 1971 cutting celery in the Salinas Valley. During his seven years in the fields as part of an otherwise Mexican work force, Frank served as a crew shop steward, fighting for workers’ rights under the first United Farm Workers contract. In the off-season, he taught agricultural history at the University of California—Santa Cruz, where he co-founded the Third World Teaching Resource Center in order to connect the resources of the university to Mexican and Mexican-American students attending the local public schools. In 1979, Frank began loading trucks at the docks of the local frozen-food plants where he helped bring in the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) in order to reform a corrupt union local. He was soon fired for his TDU work. Although he was vindicated by the National Labor Relations Board, his job was eliminated.
Since 1982, Frank has taught at the local English-as-a-second-language high school for adults, where he initiated a print shop job training program that has graduated over fifty students. Through the contacts he has made with the community as an ESL teacher, he has been able to participate in the politics of daily life. Frank helped organize critical support to feed striking workers at the frozen food plant during their successful two-year strike in 1985-86. Another effort, involving hundreds of students and teachers, saved two local schools from being razed for parking lots.
Frank has worked to build permanent housing to replace the substandard dormitories in which Mexican “guest workers” have been forced to live for the past fifty years. He has also helped to forge an unusual coalition of the United Farm Workers, the county Farm Bureau, and environmental groups to stop the loss of jobs for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans agricultural workers through the continued conversion of farmland into commercial malls and housing developments.
Through the Watsonville Human Rights Committee (WHRC), Frank helped to establish a low-wattage Spanish-language radio station, the principal source of news from Mexico and of political and cultural expression for many young adults in the community. He has fostered an understanding and respect for the cultural roots of Watsonville’s Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant worker communities, and encouraged community discussions about the cultural and economic impact of NAFTA. As part of this dialogue, Frank and his colleagues at the WHRC have translated the writings and speeches of the leaders of the Zapitista movement in Chiapas, Mexico. Frank is also writing a history of the California farm workers’ movement and the UFW.
Frank Bardacke has struggled side-by-side with his neighbors for equal rights, decent working conditions, access to education, habitable housing, adequate food, and medical services. While Frank has no titled positions and claims no credit for himself, a friend says Frank is the “enriched plasma” in the civic body of Watsonville—without which the participation of hundreds of individuals could not flow sufficiently to nurture the many local institutions.