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Guide to the Victor P. Salandini, 1949-1992
Special Collections m0249  
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The papers of Fr. Victor P. Salandini consist of 5 1/2 linear feet of correspondence, personal files, and reference files dating from 1949 to 1973. The research strengths of the collection lie in its fairly full documentation of Fr. Salandini's particular farm labor interests and specific events in which he was involved (the bracero program and the Imperial Valley lettuce strike in 1961, for example). Less specific research strengths of the papers include documentation of the role of the Catholic Church in California, farm labor organizing, and the role of specific labor organizations during the 1960s, such as the Workers' Organizing Committee, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, and United Farm Workers' Organizing Committee. Although Fr. Salandini was Research Director for the UFWOC, AFL-CIO, from 1969 to 1971, those files are not included in these papers. The papers are arranged in two major series: Personal Papers and Reference Files. Series I, Personal Papers, consists of material generated by Fr. Salandini. Sub-series within Personal Papers include biographical information, correspondence, and working files generated by parish work, scholarship, and teaching. Series II, Reference Files, consists of files created by Fr. Salandini for his own reference purposes. They reflect his primary interest in farm labor problems, specifically those of Mexican Americans in California.
Fr. Victor P. Salandini is best known as an activist of the Mexican American community and advocate of the California farm laborers' cause. A close associate of Cesar Chavez (director of the United Farm Workers union), Fr. Salandini defied the Catholic hierarchy and the U.S. government several times, suffering parish transfers, suspension, and even imprisonment in order to pursue his calling as a priest to the oppressed. At the same time his scholarly research on the labor question ("The Short-Run Socioeconomic Effects of the Termination of Public Law 78 on the California Farm Labor Market for 1965-1967," Ph.D. Thesis, Catholic University, 1969) was utilized by the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare and reprinted by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards. The only son of a farmer, Victor Paul Salandini was born August 12, 1927 in Escondido, California. From age twelve until his 1952 ordainment as a Roman Catholic priest, Salandini spent every summer working as a laborer in the fields. His first appointment as curate (1952-1954) to the Rev. Leo L. Davis of the Immaculate Conception Church, a Mexican American parish in San Diego, allowed him the opportunity to bring his personal experience as a field worker into the forefront of his ministry's concern. In 1953 Fr. Davis founded the United States' first Cardijn Center, a predominantly lay organization dedicated to the social doctrine of the Church. Fr. Salandini headed a Cardijn Center sub-group, the Young Christian Workers, whose aim was "to restore Christian dignity to the world of work." He later wrote that "the Cardijn Center has given my priesthood meaning." In 1957 he was selected to attend the Young Catholic Workers International conclave and seminar in Rome. The Diocese of San Diego, as well as his parishioners, praised Salandini's efforts. As an assistant pastor (1954-1957) to two San Diego Mexican American parishes and as Pastor (1957-1962) of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, El Centro, California, Fr. Salandini worked to develop Christian leadership in young men. In a rural Mexican American parish this concern soon fed into a ministry supporting the migrant laborer. From 1957 to 1962 Fr. Salandini was chaplain to 6,000 braceros (migrant workers) in the Imperial Valley. In addition to his religious duties, he tried to improve conditions in the migrant camps by showing weekly films and introducing other social activities; he also devised an effective system to safeguard the money which hundreds of workers sent their families in Mexico. Meanwhile, from January to March 1961, the newly-formed Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) began their first big drive to organize workers in Southern California, a campaign which culminated in a strike in the Imperial Valley's lettuce fields. The experience of watching the increased union activity further impressed upon Fr. Salandini the need to improve the working conditions of migrant laborers. He strongly supported his parishioners who were the strike's main participants. Church officials, however, were not pleased with his involvement and, according to Salandini, he was "silenced by the Diocese which felt that Church intervention at that time was not prudent." Fr. Salandini was transferred to high-school teaching duties within San Diego. While in San Diego, he completed his B.A. degree at San Diego City College (1962). He went on to receive an M.A. degree from St. Louis University (1965), writing a thesis entitled: "An Objective Evaluation of the Labor Disputes in the Lettuce Industry in Imperial Valley, California, during January-March 1961." In 1964 the Diocese allowed Fr. Salandini to resume work as an assistant parish priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a Mexican American parish in the rural border community of San Ysidro, California. Again, Fr. Salandini was placed in an excellent position to further union efforts. After a period of quiescence, AWOC resumed its attempts to organize field workers in late 1964. In March 1965 AWOC extended its efforts to San Diego County where Fr. Salandini spearheaded the campaign by making the church hall available for organizational meetings. In June, two weeks after AWOC struck five farms, the Diocese sent Fr. Salandini out of his parish, releasing him exclusively to _ attend summer sessions at San Diego State University and later the Ph.D. program in labor economics at Catholic University, Washington, D.C. Diocesan intervention did not lessen Fr. Salandini's devotion to the farm labor movement. His growing acquaintance with Cesar Chavez had greatly influenced him. While he studied in Washington he worked as the official legislative representative of the National Farm Workers Association's (later the United Farm Workers), and also served on the Mexican-American Advisory Committee of the War on Poverty. In April 1966 he led a sympathy march to the nation's capital which was followed by a mass for the grape-strikers. Upon his return to the San Diego area, Fr. Salandini, along with Cesar Chavez, the Rev. Wayne C. Hartmire (Director of the California Council of Churches Migrant Ministry) and eight striking grape-workers, was chained, jailed and tried for trespassing on DiGiorgio Corporation property after attempting to claim the strikers' confiscated goods. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1969, Fr. Salandini was increasingly recognized as an authority on the California farm labor question. From 1969 to 1971, as the Research Director of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, he travelled across the United States and Canada to lecture and inform the public. In addition to publishing numerous articles and reviews, Salandini worked for New Manpower Researchers of the Department of Labor, The Labor Guild of Boston, and participated in the Wilheim Weinberg Seminar, a conference sponsored by the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He also collaborated with Wayne State University in compiling a selective bibliography entitled "Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers." Fr. Salandini continued to pursue his more controversial labor activities as well, stating he was "merely following papal social doctrine that a priest be concerned with the needs of the poor." In 1965 be began serving as a part-time chaplain for Chavez and union farm workers. Salandini's ministry reached its climax in 1971 when San Diego Bishop Leo T. Maher suspended him for refusing to wear vestments other than a burlap serape emblazoned with Chavez's stylized eagle and for distributing corn tortillas as communion bread. Diocesan officials accused "the tortilla priest," as Salandini came to be known, of "scandalous disobedience" for using his religious status as a political weapon. They also charged that he harassed the owners of picketed farm operations by holding daily masses in defiance of a court injunction. Bishop Maher later reinstated Salandini, and he returned to his academic career as associate professor of labor economics at Fresno State College.
5.75 linear ft.
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