Mily Treviño-Sauceda Mily Treviño-Sauceda Mily’s family came to the United States from the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon to work in the fields. She was born in Bellingham Washington and during her childhood her family moved many times around the U.S for work. When she was about eight years old they lived in Idaho. Their home there was an old train car that had been converted to a living space but without provisions for the intense winter cold. Her whole family, including children, worked in the fields. She helped her family with crop irrigation before and after school and on weekends. At home she helped with housework and with the care of her younger siblings. They worked seven days a week during the eight months out of the year that the weather allowed. She remembers falling asleep in her second grade class or not paying attention because she was thinking about the work that needed to de done in the fields. The pay was very little but between the entire family they managed to save a little money every year. She also remembers that her parents attended English classes after work and that her mother organized student folkloric dance performances at their school so that the children would learn about their culture. Both of her parents always tried to better themselves despite all the work they had. This was something she carried into her own life. Mily first arrived in the Coachella Valley with her family around Christmas of 1974. They lived in the town of Thermal but soon moved to the Fred Young Labor Camp in Indio. In 1975 the family was picking citrus in the area around Blythe, CA and they started becoming aware of the many issues that were affecting them at work. Problems that included pesticide poisoning, lack of drinking water, lack of restrooms, low pay and wage theft. Her father, Leopoldo Treviño, began to organize the workers to stand up for their rights. In time her father became the first representative of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in the Coachella Valley. Mily was present when all of this was happening, she would later gain formal training and knowledge about organizing but at that time she was learning about it through direct experience. She went to the Union meetings and she volunteered to help by translating and helping people fill out paperwork. At that time women were not part of the Union but both her parents organized in their own way, her father in the fields and her mother through the local church and religious community. She and her brothers organized a youth group centered around the church to stave off the gang violence and drug use that was already a problem in the community. She became known for being outspoken and for standing up for workers rights. Around this same time Mily experienced the first of several instances of sexual harassment that happened to her while working in the fields. Even now when recalling this she has a hard time expressing the feelings of anxiety, desperation, fear and powerlessness that she felt. She remembers being terrified and not wanting to go to back work. She tried to tell her father about it but that conversation made her realize that she was going to have to battle the sexual harassment and a culture of blaming women for it. This discouraged her from speaking out. What happened to her was serious but not as serious as what she has since learned other women have gone through. Unfortunately the culture is still such that this issue is not dealt with in a healthy, constructive way. The community is only now, forty years later, beginning to acquire the language to address it. At that time many other things were being talked about but not sexual harassment. It wasn’t being addressed because men were in charge of the union and because it was taboo to talk about it. In 1978 representatives from the California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. (CRLA) knocked on her door to offer her a job. The CRLA is a non-profit legal service that was founded in 1966 to help California’s low-income communities. They had been in the Coachella Valley for about twelve years but they were having trouble connecting with the local community so they were looking for someone with strong ties to the people. They offered her a position with benefits and an opportunity to stop working in the fields. She had never heard of CRLA and she had not thought about not working in the fields so she was apprehensive. It took her weeks to decide but then she surprised herself and everyone else and took the job. She asked why they had offered it to her and she was told that it was because of her talent. This was interesting to her because she had never thought about herself that way. She had always thought about the work that she did in the community as simply helping the people that she knew, now she began to see the possibility of helping people on a bigger scale in a more organized way. Mily brought to her position at CRLA the trust of the community, she helped build the connection that CRLA was seeking and she also gained a lot of knowledge from the experience. She found greater resources and different ways to be of service to the community. She was happy because she had passion for the work and because she saw that people were learning about their rights and were exercising them. She worked for the CRLA for ten years but by the eighth year she began to feel that she had learned as much as she could with that organization and she thought about what she was going to do next. In 1988 she left CRLA and her sister-in-law Maria Elena Lopez Treviño enlisted Mily to be on her Master’s thesis committee at Cal State Long Beach. Maria Elena had the idea to interview farm worker women in the Coachella Valley to collect data that would then be used to teach the women about health issues via a weekly radio program. As a part of this Mily helped to formulate a nearly one hundred question survey and with her network in the Coachella Valley she was able to help with the logistics of administering the survey. She found volunteers and she herself did canvassing. Mily found the work interesting and exciting and she did about thirty of the sixty interviews herself. She was doing first person data collection touching on many subjects including health and living conditions, domestic abuse, and the relationship of the community to social service agencies. They also asked the women about their aspirations. She noticed that very few of the women had aspirations beyond what was traditionally expected of them. Something else that impressed her was that many of them said they would prefer to work towards community development by doing the work themselves rather than having someone from outside come in and tell them what to do. The experience of administering the needs assessment survey for her sister-in-law’s Master’s dissertation was a deep and direct delve into the community and the issues that were affecting people. Mily realized that helping the community was much more complex than simply giving people information, she saw that the work needed to come from within the community because they knew the specifics of the issues and they had the cultural context to address the issues in a way that was going to be effective. She saw a need and an opportunity. This was the seed of the idea that eventually lead to the creation of a group of women dedicated to addressing the many issues that the data bore out. Two weeks after the survey was done she and a few others set up a meeting and many women from the community came to it. This was the genesis of the group Mujeres Mexicanas which later became the organization Lideres Campesinas . Through many years of hard work Mily and her partners developed Lideres Campesinas into a very effective organization that tackles problems in the farm worker community through the work of women. From the beginning their organizational structure and philosophy were different than that other advocacy groups. Lideres’ work begins with the individual women working to organize their families and homes. Then the work extends to neighbors, friends, co-workers and then out to the larger community. They provide a network of support that results in more people working independently but in a more organized way. They have regular regional gatherings where women receive leadership training. These women then return to their communities and train other women. They educate their communities about wage theft and fair pay, pesticide poisoning and workplace safety, inequality in housing and education and they bridge the gap of cultural and language differences between the community and social service agencies. Lideres does their most effective work when they address the problems that are not usually talked about. When they confront taboos, myths and traditions that have been in place for generations. In this way they are making gains in reducing sexual harassment, domestic violence, violence against women generally and even human trafficking. In 1998 Lideres Campesinas formally became a non-profit organization and they began to receive national and international recognition. There are now seven chapters of Lideres throughout the state of California. They are on the ground, knowledgeable about organizing and they can mobilize fast to reach a demographic that is hard to get to. They are an incredible asset to their communities and to outside agencies looking to work with farm workers but their mission and their strength is in developing leadership from within the community, leadership that in turn creates positive social change. After co-founding Lideres Campesinas and being at it’s helm for many years Mily shifted her focus to continue her education, eventually obtaining a degree in Chicano and Women’s Studies, although she continues to work with Lideres to this day. In 2011 Mily co-founded the organization Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Women Farmworkers). With active members in many states, Alianza is an important national voice in the service of farm worker women. Mily is now receiving national and international recognition for her many years of good work but she rarely mentions this, she mostly talks about the work that still needs to be done. She is on the road a large part of the year, travelling to take part in and lead conferences, delegations, actions and protests as an advocate for farm worker women’s rights. Mily’s work ethic is impressive, the amount of time and work she puts into each project, each organization, each push towards human rights is far beyond what most people would give. She will extend each assignment, project or budget beyond its initial description and scope to engage more women and more communities. She does this because she sees a need and an opportunity. She did this as a young UFW organizer, as an employee of CRLA and as a founder and member of Lideres and Alianza. When Mily began working in Organizing in the mid 1970s women were not at that table, they were relegated to cooking and being of service to the men who were doing the work. She was never much interested in that and while she acknowledges the importance of tradition it has never held her back. Most people live within the expectations that their families and their societies have of them but Mily moves forward by an internal force that is unrelated to any of those expectations. The things that drive her are empathy and progress, her own progress and that of women farm workers. Everything else in her life has to arrange itself around that. The challenges she has dealt with and her reflection on those challenges are a unique insight into the lives of women. In the farm worker community (as in most other communities) gender roles are reinforced through culture and tradition. She knows that many women have an almost instinctual feeling about needing the support of a man in their lives and that that is something that needs to be balanced. She also speaks insightfully about the fact that women themselves are often critical of other women trying to move forward because of ingrained tradition and gender stereotypes. When she feels critical of others she first asks herself where this criticism is coming from, she thinks about what she has learned from other women’s accounts. It is necessary, as one matures to realize where one is lacking and to be able to set your ego aside in order to move the community forward, this in turn moves you forward. By helping other people you yourself develop and become stronger. Mily’s greatest satisfaction comes from seeing people that she has helped help their own communities.