Jessica Govea Thorbourn, the teenage leader of an international workers rights movement
For Hispanic Heritage Month, we've gathered info on some of our favorite Latinos who, besides their main careers, are known for their activism for causes like immigration equality, farmer's rights, women's rights and more. Stay tuned @lapazchatt for the full series.
Jessica Govea Thorbourne, born in 1947, was a labor activist, United Farm Worker union leader, and educator. Govea Thorbourne’s interest in labor activism began from an early age. Born to migrant workers in California, Govea Thorbourne began working the fields by the age of two. Before long, she was organizing and leading boycotts, and by 19 had begun working with the United Farm Workers Union alongside Cesar Chavez, eventually rising to the position of national director of organizing. At UFW, she was asked to lead the organizing efforts in Montreal, Canada, a job that would require her to keep California growers from disrupting efforts to organize unions while at the same time making sure Canadians supported American farmworkers.
Govea Thorbourne’s first job was to raise awareness of the international grape boycott led by the UFW. Working with organizers around the world, Govea Thorbourne put pressure on growers to listen to the demands of the UFW, bringing attention to the mistreatment of farmworkers. The boycott was highly successful. By 1970, 26 table grape growers signed contracts with the UFW to improve wages and working conditions for farmers.
Govea Thorbourne worked for the UFW for four years. Upon her departure, she turned her attention to education, becoming a labor educator at Rutgers University and Cornell University.