Texas has lost a crusader for farmworkers rights. Genoveva Puga died in Alamo, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley at the age of 92 on November 22.
What largely sparked Puga’s fight for justice was the tragic death of her son, Juan Torres, in 1977. He was killed by machinery while working in the fields for the Donna Fruit Company.
At that time, Rebecca Flores says, very little reporting was done on deaths of farm workers. During that time, Flores was the director of the United Farm Workers in Texas. It was only after some digging, and talking to people who worked in the fields along with Torres that his mother was able to find out how he was killed.
Puga was a migrant farm worker who was out of the state at the time, Flores says, “she didn’t know the details until she came back.”
“And she was outraged,” Flores says, “like all of us were at the time. This company that had employed him really to do the work out in those orchards had said, ‘well, sorry, he had no connection to to this company.’ And they tried to get away from having to to pay any kind of worker’s compensation or compensate the family for his death.”
But Puga would not settle for that. She continued to fight for justice for her son, and played a crucial part in getting legislation passed that provided farmworkers with state workmen’s compensation benefits.
“She had the gumption,” Flores says. “Because, frankly, farmworkers have always been so marginalized, in all of history, really, farmworkers have been excluded from anything and everything. We had no protections. We [could] do absolutely nothing. And when we worked in the fields, we just said, ‘well, whatever happens happens to us, because this is our lot in life.’
Flores explains that Puga was tiny in stature but that it didn’t stop her from pushing forward.
“Little as she was, she decided she was going to do it, which I give her great credit as a result of what she did,” Flores says.