Author’s note: This will be the first in a series of articles remembering the Texas Farmworkers Union “March For Human Rights” of 1977. Specific details and nuances on the march not covered in this story will be further explored in future installments. This week we will take a look and focus on the famous artwork done by Austin artist Luis Guerra.

On Feb. 26, in San Juan, Texas, there was a gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Texas Farmworkers Union’s “March For Human Rights”. Exactly 40 years earlier in 1977, the TFWU started a march in San Juan that took them to Austin by April, then ultimately to Washington, D.C., in September. Altogether they marched more than 2,000 miles demanding human rights for farmworkers and to repeal ‘Right to Work’ laws protected in the Taft-Hartley Act.

One of the many people in attendance at this recent commemoration was Austin artist Luis Guerra who created “Hasta La Gloria” (1977), the now famous and definitive artwork of the TFWU’s “March For Human Rights”.

“My feet were aching at the end of the day,” Luis Guerra said about how he felt after the commemorative march. “All the people in the poster are gone. They have since passed away. I did get to talk to some of their children and that was really special just to be with them.”

During the 1970’s, Guerra had worked for La Raza Unida party, creating artwork for then gubernatorial candidate and current day political prisoner Ramsey Muñiz. Guerra briefly took part in the march when the TFWU arrived in Austin on April 1977.

“We joined the march, we walked for a few miles with them, and I remember taking my daughter with me,” Guerra said. That was Guerra’s first exposure to the TFWU.   

At the church in San Juan, where the march started 40 years ago in 1977 | Photo by Maria Romero

The TFWU ended up being unsatisfied with their meeting with Gov. Dolph Briscoe, and called an audible. They continued with their march, this time walking towards Washington, D.C.

Rosa Cuellar, who was involved with the movement at the time, contacted Guerra and asked him if he could create a piece of art on the farmworkers and their march. He asked where they were at specifically, then rushed off and caught up with them right outside of Lake Charles, Louisiana.  

“It was like an extended weekend, a long weekend,” Guerra said. “I did drawings, took photographs, but also walked with them for those three days.”

What were his major impressions of the TFWU and the people that he got to know during the Summer of 1977?

“They are tired, they are aching, but their sense of humor is fantastic,” Guerra remembers. “They would face adversity with a lot of courage. I was just amazed. It was a real honor to be with them.”

Guerra recalls the beaches of Louisiana being segregated and the TFWU taking a break on a Sunday to relax at what historically has been called a “black beach.” One person came up to the TFWU to ask them where they were coming from.

“They are tired, they are aching, but their sense of humor is fantastic,” Guerra remembers. “They would face adversity with a lot of courage. I was just amazed. It was a real honor to be with them.”

“I told him the whole story. Well, he leaves and some time later he shows up, with a bunch of friends, an ice chest full of beer and a little BBQ pit that’s already lit up. They got ribs and sausage, and it turns into a big party for everybody.”

It’s a memory that Guerra cherishes, and he soon returned back to work in Austin to start crafting a design for the artwork.  

“I would have loved to put every single farmworker on the poster, pero pos como? So I picked seven (people) but there was a lot of more people involved. Even people that weren’t marching but who were crucial to the whole thing.”

The seven people that became enshrined forever by Guerra were Rita Martinez, Julio Coreño, Raquel Orendain, Maria Salas, Antonio Orendain, Claudio Ramirez, and Jose Rodriguez.

“Hasta La Gloria” (1977) by Luis Guerra (Left to Right: Rita Martinez, Julio Coreño, Raquel Orendain, Maria Salas, Antonio Orendain, Claudio Ramirez, and Jose Rodriguez)

I asked Guerra if he could tell me about the people in the painting. I first pointed to Coreño.

“Man, that guy was strong,” Guerra remembers of Coreño. “Whenever we would go through a little town, he’d be carrying El Cuhamil, the (TFWU) newspaper. We’d be marching, and he would be going back and forth, side to side, crossing the streets, handing out the newspaper to all the people that were watching us. So he’s walking twice as much as everyone else. I thought that was really impressive. Maria Salas, she was a curandera. She was always changing the potions in her little bag, depending on where they were and what the situation was. Then Raquel Orendain, who passed away (shortly after the march). Then at the very back is Rita Martinez. She was so shy and very quiet. Antonio (Orendain) and I ended up being friends. Then of course Don Claudio (Ramirez) in the front and the other man is Jose Rodriguez. They were all very special people.”

El Cuhamil, the TFWU newspaper, covering their march as they go through Louisiana

His art students got involved in the process, and Guerra credits them for helping him produce the many copies he was able to create that Summer.

“We finished one, we cleaned the silk, washed it off, and then do the next stencil to it, in exactly the same place, where it belonged…” Guerra meticulously explained the process that it took to make more than a 100 copies of “Hasta La Gloria”. “The students, se aventaron, but by the time we finished it, it was the end of summer.”

With the posters completed, Cuellar got Guerra in touch with someone who was on their way to Washington, D.C. The artwork was sent with that person and arrived at the same time the TFWU reached the capitol.

“It’s the most popular artwork I’ve ever done,” Guerra said. “Some people wanted everyone of the farmworkers that was in the painting to sign it.”

Forty years later, Guerra felt right at home among the remaining members of the TFWU and among the family members of the ones who have since passed away. He had high praise for the TFWU exhibit that is currently at display at South Texas College in McAllen, Texas, and for the commemoration march in San Juan. According to him, the impact the TFWU had on his life is something that can never be understated.

“They influenced my entire life,” Guerra said emotionally. “Someone told me at this (commemorative) event, ‘Thank you so much for helping us out.’ Le digo, ‘No, no, en contrario, it was a privilege and honor to do this work for the farmworkers.’”