Maria Elena Coronado: From on the farm to working with Cesar Chavez

Source: KTAR News

By: CORBIN CARSON

KTAR News is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, paying tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have influenced and enriched our community in a positive way. This week KTAR News presents profiles of five Arizonans who have become difference-makers in our state. This is part 3 of a 5 part series.

Meet Maria Elena Coronado.

farm worker story

“It’s always been my love and dedication to do social justice work. Things that you get to do and participate in to make your city, town, or neighborhood a better place, is super exciting to me,” Coronado said.  “I still live in the neighborhood that I grew up in.”

That neighborhood is South Phoenix. Coronado is a third generation Arizonan, the daughter of a farm worker and the granddaughter of a copper miner.

“Social justice issues have always been kind of what I’ve been surrounded with,” she said. “Growing up in the 70s as a youngster is the height of the lettuce boycott here in Arizona.”

That was around the time that she became aware of Cesar Chavez.

“My parents, or my dad in particular and his family were farm workers, they were always very supportive of the United Farm Workers and their movement,” Coronado said.

Years later, as a college student, she’d get a chance to work with Chavez.

“He didn’t have to convince me of why we had to go out and support him, and what was happening, because I lived that,” Coronado said. “I lived on the fact that we didn’t buy lettuce and didn’t buy grapes for a long time. We just didn’t do it.”

Coronado was placed in an office where Chavez would receive mail from elementary school kids.

“Cesar Chavez also has the same name as Julio Cesar Chavez, the boxer,” she remembers. “I would open the mail from these kids, and they’re like, ‘What’s boxing life like?’ or ‘How is the struggle?’”

“Cesar would say, ‘Answer the question and send it back, because this is a fight. What we do is a fight. We are fighters,’” Coronado said.

The boycotts eventually made conditions somewhat better, she said, for the back-breaking laborers who pick all of our fruits and vegetables. At least as far as minimum wage and child laborers, but there is still work to be done.

“Should they be getting paid more? Absolutely,” she said. “And I think more Americans would find some sort of dignity in doing that work if the wages to work in the fields were higher.”

Coronado went on to dedicate her life to social justice work. Along with a lengthy list of awards and achievements, she has been helping Hispanic youth graduate from college, understand their heritage and play a role in Arizona’s future.

“Young people who want to look back and say this is why I’m here and this why I love Arizona,” Coronado said. “Because of the rich Hispanic Culture, the Native Culture, our African American stories, this is what makes Arizona so beautiful.”

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