GAY AUSTIN JULY 1978
Gay and proud
Julio corenb: a farmworker
By DAVID MORRIS
As you drive south from Austin to the valley in April, the fields and brash along the sides of the
highway change by subtle steps from nearly green to
green and the mesquite becomes thicker. The houses
change, too, from plain symmetry and neatness in
the north to richer florid schemes and less modest
color in the south. And poverty, from the highway,
reveals itself in poorer sides of towns as unadorned
human prevalence over neatness of lawns and rigid
But the valley, by one measure, is not poor. Hidalgo
County, whose southern border is the Mexican Border,
is the richest agricultural county in Texas, the second richest in the nation. In its fertile soil grow
orrege trees, grapefruit and countless types of vegetables, enough to feed millions and enough to make
rich men richer. For it is by the measure of rich men
that Hidalgo is rich. Like corporate feudal lords,
they gather fortunes while seated in plush chairs at
polished desks, breathing cool, filtered air; but
fortunes in carrots and onions need more than clever
business deals, a warm sun, and great holdings of
fertile land. What's needed, too, are abundant human
hands ta cultivate and pick and to do so cheaply.
By the measure of the 70,000 agricultural workers
who live there, Hidalgo is one of the poorest counties In the nation. There are efforts to build a
union. With few resources beyond their own determination, a group of farmworkers led by Antonio Oren-
dain has been trying to change what by now seems an
almost permanent situation by organizing strikes,
protests and marches. The Texas Farmworkers Union, La
Union de Campesinos de Texas, has organized and
helped organize many local strikes, the latest being
in the onion fields, where most workers previously
earned less than a dollar an hour at the rate of 35c
per sack of onions. Last year, they marched 1,500
miles from their headquarters in San Juan to Washington, D.C., to speak to Jimmy Carter, Carter's refusal
to listen was no major blow to people who had been
run over, shot at and jailed for their efforts.
An openly gay man is in the thick of the union's
struggle. Small and dark, with Indian features and
a recent permanent, Julio Coreno's effeminacy is one
with his strength and determination. Being a campes-
Ino, a farmwerker, is more his life than his occupation, as it was the life of his parents and his
grandparents. Born in the Mexican state of Guanajuato,
he has never been to school and speaks no English. He
is sensitive and articulate on the subject of his
life as a campesino and his union, and that, as It
turns out, was the subject of the interview Enrique
Lopez and I held with him at his home in Mercedes,
Texas, on the eastern edge of Hidalgo County.
Although deeply political, Julio's community has not
yet politicized the subject of homosexuality, and he
was reluctant to discuss it In a political interview.
All the more important, then, is the obvious respect
his determination and energy have worn him'among his
colleagues, a respect that in itself is hardly unusual in practical situations in working-class Mexican amd Chicano communities.
DAVID MORRIS: How much money do farmworkers make here
in the valley?
JULIO CORENO: You can't make money here, the salaries are very low. We never work forty hours a week,
much less overtime because they don't want to pay
D.M.: In other jobs it's only the father that works.
but here in the harvests isn't it true that the
whole family usually works?
J.C: Everyone always works, the father, the mother,
the children, everyone. They have to take them to
work because you can't earn enough pay to be able
to say, well, "I'll be the only one to work."
D.M.: So the children don't go to school, or they
go only when they can?
J.C: The way we were raised, our parents didn't
send us to school because there weren't any schools
on the ranches, there was nothing, and even when the
government started putting schools on the ranches,
parents didn't send their children. Who could send
photo by Enrique Lopez
Camoesino Julio Coreno