Chole Alatorre was one of the best organizers in labor for decades. She did not get the notoriety other labor leaders did such as César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Miguel Contreras or Mike García from Justice for Janitors.
Chole was ahead of her times. She knew her place in history, she was confident, self assured and had a lot of fight for justice in her.
Chole was part of the leadership in CASA, Centro Autonomo Social de Accion, Hermandad General De Trabajadores (Center For Autonomous Social Action) along with Bert Corona the Godfather of Immigrant Rights. She took the action to heart.
Chole was the originator of the “Know Your Right Cards” for workers. During a union organizing drive in the port area during the late 60’s the company hired a union busting firm to try to intimidate workers and confuse them about their rights just because they were undocumented. Chole came up with the first labor union know your right card in the country. She put a card together out lining their rights as workers under the labor codes, regardless if they were undocumented. This know your rights card gave the workers confidence to challenge the union busting firm in the meetings the owners organized to corral and intimidate workers. The workers stood up in the meetings to defend themselves because of this card. Many unions took note of this tactic and starting putting out know your rights card during their organizing campaigns throughout the country. The Know Your Rights Card was a tool the labor movement picked up from Chole Alatorre the union organizer. She was never given credit for the Know Your Rights Card.
Chole was a relentless lobbyist as well. I walked the halls of the California State Legislator during 1971 and 1972 with her and Bert Corona. We were lobbying against the Dixon- Arnett bill the first anti-immigrant bill in the country. This bill was aimed at undocumented and documented families, it proposed to stop giving them social services, such as health services, educational, welfare to US born children. Chole was relentless in knocking on every legislators door in the California Capital. Her limited English did not stop her from getting her point across to elected officials. She and Bert were able to convince the Lieutenant Governor Melvyn Dymally to join the fight to defeat the Dixon Arnett Bill. The support of Melvyn Dymally Lieutenant Governor started a wave of support of opposition to the bill. The Dixon Arnett was finally defeated and declared unconstitutional.
The fight to finally obtain amnesty in 1986, was a long 15 year battle. Chole was said we need to take our fight to the halls of Washington D.C. So for 15 years CASA under the leadership of Chole Alatorre and Bert Corona took bus loads, plane loads, car caravans to DC to lobby against every inhumane and injustice immigration bill until forcing then President Ronald Reagan to sign the first amnesty law in the history of the United States.
Chole up until years before passing was still give orders about what we needed to do fight inhuman immigration policy.
Copyright 2020 by Jorge Rodríguez. Photo of Chole at microphone by Ricardo Muñoz, photo of Chole with Dolores Huerta and Rosalío Muñoz by Rosalío Muñoz, photo of Chole with CASA sign used with permission from Dr. Mario García.