BY FRANCISCO GUAJARDO
Daría Vera, a lifelong resident of Rio Grande City, died Aug. 6 at 5:05 p.m. at the Baptist Medical Center in San Antonio. At 73, she succumbed to complications resulting from COVID-19.
Daría’s daughter, Maricela Olvera, bore close witness to her mother’s life and tells that the hospital in Rio Grande City had simply run out of space to treat COVID-19 victims.
“So they flew my mother to the Baptist hospital in San Antonio, and she died there,” she said. “It was very sad because we could only communicate with her through the computer.”
Daría was born on Nov. 18, 1946, in Rio Grande City. She attended school up to the third grade and at a young age began to work in agricultural fields in South Texas and even followed the crops to the fields of West Texas. Her lack of formal education did not define her, however. Maricela describes her mother as a spark plug, a capable woman whose enormous talent was matched only by her immense passion.
When Daría was 19, she worked as a melon picker, earning 40 cents an hour to pick cantaloupes, a wage much lower than what other laborers earned. Daría did not like that, and she did not like the fact there were no bathrooms available to women working in the fields, nor was there running water, or access to other basic laborer necessities.
The United Farm Workers organization, led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, was just gaining strength across the country, and it came to Daría’s community to gauge interest in a strike to protest low wages and unacceptable working conditions. Daría threw herself into the organizing effort, assuming a leadership role in the famous Melon Strike of 1966 in Rio Grande City. This historic event pitted melon growers against the workers who picked the melons.
To combat Daría and other strikers, the growers looked to bring in replacement workers from Mexico. When a bus with Mexican workers made its way across the international suspension bridge between Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas, and Roma, Daría laid down on the bridge to block the oncoming bus filled with replacement workers. A photograph of Daría and another striker became the subject of national news.
According to historian Maritza de la Trinidad, who conducted an oral history with Daría in 2016, “Daría loved that picture. She was so proud of her role in the strike, and adamant that she should be involved. She was such a formidable woman.”
After the strike, Daría and others led a march from Rio Grande City to the State Capitol in Austin, to announce their protest before the state government. Along the way, they stopped in small towns that dotted the South Texas landscape. Kenedy, Texas, was one of those towns, and the strikers apparently made an impression on one of churches in town.
For a half century after the strike, Daría continued to work in the fields, she raised a family, and lived a proud life. But material success never came to her, as she settled into a modest life. Maricela said that her mother basically lived in poverty. She said, “Her house was almost unlivable, but Pastor Martinez from the church in Kenedy, a town they visited on the 1966 march, came just a few years ago. With others from their church, they built my mother a new house.”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 took Daría, but not before she cemented her legacy as a woman of historical importance. Professor de la Trinidad, who bore witness to Daría’s life through the oral history process said, “Daría saw herself as the mother of the community, and through her activism she also became one of the people who would launch the civil rights movement in South Texas.”
Que en paz descanse Daría Vera. Rest in peace.
Francisco Guajardo, chief executive officer for the Museum of South Texas History at 200 N. Closner Blvd. in Edinburg, authored this story as part of an ongoing series entitled Bearing Witness. The museum’s effort aims to document some of the Rio Grande Valley lives lost to COVID-19. For more information about the museum, visit MOSTHistory.org.