Librada Paz carries the meaning of her name like two wings: Librada means liberty, and Paz means peace. She is a human rights activist, pledging her time and energy to find liberty and peace for farm workers. Working on a farm is a rough job she once held herself.
At 15, faced with the hard fact that she would not be able to get an education in Mexico, she came to the United States to live with her brother, work and plant dreams of college.
For more than 10 years, Paz sweated in the fields and orchards in this country, plucking apples and oranges from trees, and hauling bushels of cucumbers, squash and strawberries. From bent backs in dusty fields to the dinner tables across America — food is handled by farm workers who work without the dignity of a day off, safe housing or sick days.
Some women are sexually abused, as Paz says she was. Many suffer at the hands of sometimes-violent bosses in isolated work camps with broken windows and doors. Workers — men, women and children — often sleep in one room. Showers are outside.
"For more than a decade, I experienced inhuman conditions working in the fields of the United States," Paz said. "In the fields of the United States I learned that farm workers do not matter."
Today she finds conditions are still deplorable. Paz, who left the farms to earn an engineering degree, is an activist and council member of Rural and Migrant Ministry. She campaigns all over New York for passage of the Farm Worker Fair Labor Act. Last year, she won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award. Her story is part of Speak Truth to Power lesson plans created by NYSUT and is now available at Share My Lesson, an online teacher-to-teacher resource hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.
Most people are unaware of the struggles of farm workers, Paz said. "This is where we need to educate our kids."