Mighty Mily

By Carol Krumbach and Shannon Wingard

As a 16-year-old citrus farm worker in California’s Coachella Valley, Mily Treviño-Sauceda ’14 dreaded the sound of the oncoming tractor. More than 30 years later, she can remember the anxiousness and fear she felt as the sound of the vehicle driven by her crew leader—and sexual harasser—drew nearer.

At the time, Mily was assisting her father, along with a group of others, in being the first to organize the local citrus farmworkers with the United Farm Workers of America. She was passionate about helping her father with this work, which she believed would carve a better life for her family and others in the community.

However, after telling her father about the harassment she was experiencing, Mily realized that despite the progress being made, there were some issues still “too taboo to discuss.”

 

The Women's World Summit Foundation deemed Mily "the leader of the women farmworkers movement in the U.S." and awarded her a global prize in 2016 for “creative approaches to help women farmworkers comprehend and confront their challenges.”

As a 16-year-old citrus farm worker in California’s Coachella Valley, Mily Treviño-Sauceda ’14 dreaded the sound of the oncoming tractor. More than 30 years later, she can remember the anxiousness and fear she felt as the sound of the vehicle driven by her crew leader—and sexual harasser—drew nearer.

At the time, Mily was assisting her father, along with a group of others, in being the first to organize the local citrus farmworkers with the United Farm Workers of America. She was passionate about helping her father with this work, which she believed would carve a better life for her family and others in the community.

However, after telling her father about the harassment she was experiencing, Mily realized that despite the progress being made, there were some issues still “too taboo to discuss.”

“So I just silenced myself,” she says. As a young adult, Mily worked as an activist for the California Rural Legal Assistance Migrant Project, and she co-founded Mujeres Mexicanas (Mexican Women) in the Coachella Valley. During those years, she may have tried, but couldn’t forget, the harassment she had repeatedly experienced.
When she helped her sister-in-law create a survey for female farmworkers—and read the results—Mily knew she could no longer remain silent.

“This is when I realized how many women have gone through the same and worse experiences,” she says. “I was angry, and felt we needed to do something about it. We didn’t know what, but it was up to us.”

In 1992, she co-founded Lideres Campesinas, a statewide advocacy organization for campesinas (female farmworkers), and served as executive director until 2009 when she stepped down to pursue her master’s degree at Antioch University. She learned about Antioch from one of her mentors, Starry Krueger, President of the Rural Development Leadership Network (RDLN).

Mily credits her graduate studies with allowing her to reexamine her life, and decide what her “mastery” should be. Ultimately, she decided “continuing to organize” was her true passion.
In 2011, Mily co-founded Alianza Nacional de Campesinas (National Alliance of Farmworker Women). Alianza now serves more than 700,000 women; ending workplace exploitation of farmworker women and all farmworkers is one of their top priorities.

“It made sense to me that that was the next step. All these years, I had met women who were interested in trying to be part of this network we had,” Mily says.

Mily Treviño-Sauceda spent a decade working in the fields of the eastern Coachella Valley in CA, one of the largest agricultural regions in the country.

Mily Treviño-Sauceda spent a decade working in the fields of the eastern Coachella Valley in CA, one of the largest agricultural regions in the country.

Alianza made headlines on Nov. 10, 2017, when Time magazine published a powerful letter from the group proclaiming solidarity with Hollywood actors and praising survivors of sexual assault who had come forward. Alianza’s “Dear Sisters” letter was a watershed moment in the emerging Time’s Up movement. 

Weeks later, the Time’s Up alliance published their own “Dear Sisters” letter, signed by 300 prominent Hollywood figures, saying, “To the members of Alianza and farmworker women across the country, we see you, we thank you, and we acknowledge the heavy weight of our common experience of bring preyed upon, harassed, and exploited by those who abuse their power and threaten our physical and economic security.”

The Women’s World Summit Foundation deemed Mily “the leader of the women farmworkers movement in the U.S.” and awarded her a global prize in 2016 for “creative approaches to help women farmworkers comprehend and confront their challenges.”

One thing is clear for this dynamic woman who’s been called “the leader of the women farmworkers movement in the United States”: Organizing will always be her “true mastery.”

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