Oral History Interview with Antonio Salazar-Hobson

This oral history interview was conducted by Gabe Sanders with Antonio Salazar-Hobson, a tribal and labor lawyer who has worked with Cesar Chavez. Below is a summary of the oral history, as well as the transcript itself.

Man smiling at camera. In color.[1]

Antonio Salazar-Hobson described his journey from being kidnapped and trafficked at the age of four to finding tremendous success as a tribal and labor lawyer for clients including United Farmworkers. Salazar-Hobson focused on the 22-year period from 1971, when he met Cesar Chavez, to 1993, when Chavez—at that point one of Salazar-Hobson’s greatest influences and mentors—passed away. Salazar-Hobson emphasized his undying commitment to La Causa and other movements for civil rights, as well as the profound impact that people like Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Dr. Norman O. Brown had on the trajectory of his life. Salazar-Hobson also discussed the reunion between him and his family, his triumphs as a union and employee-side labor attorney, his views on the import and efficacy of nonviolence, and the hope he finds in youth-led activism. This interview was conducted for inclusion on The Nonviolence Project’s website and in the UW-Madison Archives & Records Management oral history collection.

Click play to listen to the oral history below:


Antonio Salazar-Hobson, Gabe Sanders


Gabe Sanders 00:04

Okay, so today is May 8, 2024. I am here with Antonio Salazar-Hobson. We are meeting virtually via Zoom, and I’m located currently in Madison, Wisconsin at my home at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Would you like to say where you’re located right now Antonio?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 00:22

Sure. I’m Antonio Salazar-Hobson. It’s a pleasure to be with you today. I have lived and practice in San Francisco for the last 45 years here.

Gabe Sanders 00:31

Wonderful, and would you mind, for the sake of the recording, saying your first and last name and spelling your last name?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 00:40

Sure. It’s Antonio. And then the last name is Salazar-Hobson, which is S-A-L-A-Z-A-R, hyphen, then capital H-O-B as in boy, S as in Sam, O-N. So that’s my full name.

Gabe Sanders 01:00

Perfect. Thank you so much.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 01:02

And my original name is Antonio Salazar y Bailon, which is B-A-I-L-O-N.

Gabe Sanders 01:13

Perfect, thank you. Now I have your book right here. It’s an incredible book. And it’s an incredible story that you have. For the sake of my project, which is The Nonviolence Project, I’m most interested in the period of your life that you spent with Cesar Chavez, and I will be asking you quite a few questions about that and the sort of activism that you engaged in and dealt with during that period. But since you have such an incredible story, I’d like to give you the floor for a moment. If you could take me through some of the early life events that led to you ending up in Lodi, California.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 01:48

Ok so, my name is Antonio, and I come from a migrant family of 14 children. I’m the 11th. My family, Jesus and Petra Salazar and my siblings, pick fruit for 41 years across the country. I was kidnapped at age four and two months in front of my siblings, and immediately brought over to California, and I was subjected to trafficking for six years with a litany of pedophiles—both Sarah and John Hobson were pedophiles. I would say the most harrowing experience was spending three summers on the ranch by myself, which was a front for a pedophile ring. Then what happened is that, as a result of that, after the last assault in the third year, I was nine years old, I decided to to commit suicide, thinking that was the way that I could return to my family. I fortunately survived that event, but with very visible wounds around my neck. So people noticed, and it was actually a gay cowboy who intervened and said, “We will report you tomorrow morning. You’ve got to send Antonio home.” So the that got me up to the age of nine or 10. What happened is that at that point we ended up in Lodi, California which is located outside of Stockton, 50 miles from Sacramento. It’s the largest toucan grape region in the world. I was a high school student, but I was also a foreign worker in Lodi, California. So virtually all of my classmates were that, were Chicanos. We got a call—at the time I was student body president, I believe, of Lodi High, a high school of 4000—that Cesar wanted to meet with some Chicano students because he had been told many, many times that he would be assassinated in Lodi, and therefore he never came. I eventually did bring him to Lodi several years later. I went with a group of eight students, and we had two hours before a union rally in Stockton, which was a massive rally in support of the UFW. He asked each of us what our names were, and he gave us 10 minutes. I said, “My name is Tony S. Hobson, and I was adopted. But my real family is Jesus and Petra Salazar y Bailon. Here are the names of all 13 of my siblings. And those are the people I was born with.” I said, “I’ve been picking fruit now in the Valley for three years. There’s no cold water, the water is hot in the metal cans, there are no toilets for the girls or for the women, and of course, we’re being covered by pesticides. I don’t know what to do, but I’d like to do something about that.” What I didn’t understand is that at the time, he saw something in me that I didn’t see. He asked me, because the UFW had homes in the various locals in Stockton, to work with the UFW out of Stockton. I technically live in Stockton, so I spent a year with him. What I did is I started being one of his bodyguards. That was a very common thing that a lot of young Latinos did back then. Generally, Cesar, when he would come out to events throughout the valley, he would have basically 30 to 40 of us, young people standing in front, sometimes in uniform, sometimes not. And that you know, and that was a great honor, and it was a thrill. But there was also hard work to do. And after a year of knowing me, he took me aside right before I was going to college. I was 16. And he said, “Antonio, I think you’re so talentoso”—because we always spoken Spanish—”You are so talented. Would you consider being a labor lawyer for La Causa?” And as I’ve said before, you know, I only had one dream, which was to find my family. And I didn’t know how that was going to happen, but I knew that I had to endure a great deal. Then this man came into my life and gave me a life, and but for him, I don’t know where I would have ended up. So I went on to college at 16 and I was a sophomore, finished my sophomore year by the time I was 17. Of course, he was keeping in touch with me, and he asked me whether I would get involved in the 1973 Lettuce Strike in Salinas, which was a very violent strike. And there was only one UFW ranch there and it was a strawberry ranch. He said, “Would you go out there and spend the summer and work for us?” And because I was already a sophomore, and I was studying Chicano history and Latin history, he says, “What you can do is”—and my professor also came up with this idea—”I want you to go pick fruit, I want you to go pick strawberries from 5:15 in the morning until two o’clock.” That’s when you can’t pick strawberries any anymore after that, because of the sun. “But,” he said, “By four o’clock, I want you in every SRO, every motel, every trailer park wherever migrant workers live, and I want you to interview all of them, and document them and deal with issues”—like, for example, with the SROs during the season. SROs are single resident places. You know, they would go from one person in the room to six men in the room. There would be 50 men sharing one toilet. These were the average conditions. And so, you know, my professor was proud of me, but I think also Cesar was very proud of me. I continued to work into his orbit until I had to ask him a very important favor. I was turning 18, and I was completely broke. I come from a poor family, I had no resource resources going to college other than the scholarships, which I earned. I had done well in school. But after working university jobs at basically minimum wage, I just simply had no money left. And so I had to ask him the most arrogant question that you could ever ask Cesar. I had to ask him for permission to go work in the one factory in my town, Lodi California, which was a cannery and it was 22-2300 people seasonal workers.

Gabe Sanders 09:33

Antonio? Antonio? Okay, I apologize the recording cut out there, but you were saying…

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 09:59

What I was saying is that, after I worked in Salinas in ’73, I turned 18, and I had to ask him a favor, which was to work in this 2200-member Teamster-organized cannery, and I knew that I couldn’t take the job without his permission, I knew the likelihood of getting his permission was possibly non-existent, and I knew that I would be ridiculed. I’d already known him for three years. I couldn’t find him in a place when he was by himself. He was surrounded by about seven or eight men. I started to begin to ask him about this, and within seconds, I was heckled by the seven-eight guys about what a sellout I was. How could I possibly do this? And Cesar just calmly raised his hand, he waved it, and there was complete silence. And he said to me, “Te conocemos, Antonio,” which is the title of my Spanish book. “We know you, Antonio. You will always be with La Causa.” And he says, “Go get your education.” If he had not done that, I would have stopped school. Because I had zero resources. And the fact that he could see that I couldn’t become an attorney without going to school, and that I’d really proven myself, that I was never made fun of again, by anybody. And I became this rising star. You know, I was able to work with him for approximately 15 years, I’ve worked with Dolores Huerta for 40 years. Once again, I remind you that the Dolores Huerta came out of Stockton as a school teacher. And so it was it was rich ground. I spent my life with with Cesar building labor coalitions, I’ve marched up and down the state. I’ve been national and international council for large labor unions. I’ve spent 25-30 years putting coalition’s around the UFW. One thing that I can say, at this point in my life, is that when I promised him that I would be an attorney for La Causa, I took it as a as a pledge of my soul. And I have lived every word of that pledge for 42 years. I’ve never left it. I’ve guided my life by it. And I’ve been met with some success. But it has turned me into a militant pro-worker, union side attorney and a tribal attorney. And if I hadn’t had his example, and if he hadn’t saved me, if he hadn’t plucked me out of nowhere, if Lodi hadn’t been 10 miles outside of Stockton, and he says, “Get the kids from that school,” it would not have happened. I also want you to understand that I did not have any father figure in my life beyond Jesus, who was a reprehensible human being and a fierce misogynist who beat us regularly, and my mother, virtually every night. I didn’t have any father figure, I didn’t have any male figure. I had my kidnappers. And that was it. And so when Cesar came along, I really fantasized for the first time: well, maybe he could be like an uncle to me. And that’s what he became in my heart. You know, so I said, you know, “This is a God given gift.” I had not had much help in my life. And to have this man who was so humble, and so courageous, and beaten and hospitalized. You know, it, it was so extraordinary. You know, I don’t know whether it was, you know, God given but it gave me that that the life that I’ve been able to lead. You don’t develop those kinds of deep ties, unless you either do the work, unless you really love the movement, unless you really love the man, unless you really love Dolores. And so that’s that.

Gabe Sanders 15:09

I mean, thank you for sharing– Can you hear me?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 15:28

Yes, I can now.

Gabe Sanders 15:32

I apologize.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 15:33

Don’t worry about it. It’s gonna be fine.

Gabe Sanders 15:35

I’m having some technical difficulties. But thank you for sharing all of that. I’m certain that if Cesar were alive today, he would be incredibly proud. And your resilience is astounding on a number of levels. But I want to take you back a little bit now to the first moments that you became involved in La Causa. You mentioned La Causa a couple of times, but could you tell take me through a little bit what it meant to you and your early involvement in these worker and youth-led movements, including the anti-Vietnam War protests? The first protest you attended was Vietnam War protests, I understand.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 16:12

Yes, well, first of all, this was at a time when the Chicano movement was emerging. This is the first time that Latinos, Chicanos, were saying, “We are raza, we are proud.” This land is our land, as it were. This was originally Mexico. And we started to harp on the facts that we, we built this country, we fed this country, we maintain this country, we have intellectual power in this country, and yet we are diminished. Right? And, so, when I met Cesar, I was already trying to figure out, in my very young mind, what I was going to face in these fields. I knew that I was subjected to pesticides, when I picked strawberries. Because of the pesticides, I lost all the pigmentation in my skin, from my wrists to my elbows for two and a half years. And every man who worked there did. Lost the same amount. Also, now they’re finding birth defects, based on the pesticides that were used. All the women were fully covered, but the men wouldn’t do that. And so, finding out eventually that both my parents had died of pesticides, that we did it 41 years, I knew that in order to maintain who I was as a person, that I had to follow my parents’ route. And I delivered. So I spent four years in fields, I spent five years in factories, I worked and honored the work that that I did. As soon as I found the UFW, I had a clear avenue. It was like an open road to me. And this man was saying, “Come walk with me.” And I was there with a bunch of other people. But for some reason, he reached me. And that’s the astonishing thing. You see, I had no sense that I was bright. I had done very well in school, but no one had ever said a kind word to me in my life, since the age of four. Had been denigrated in many racist ways by my kidnappers. So when I could, the one thing that saved me in my life for all this is that I knew I never wanted to be white. Period. I wanted to be Chicano, I wanted to speak Spanish, I did not want to leave my people. I love my people. And so not having that confusion. I didn’t mind securing an education, and getting English skills, and being a good advocate. But I was never seeking to assimilate. Between just the strength of my own heart to begin with, then flooded with this insight with Cesar Chavez, I just had an open road that he created. And so I just jumped in, and I’ve never looked back for a second. For some reason, being loyal to my people, has been utterly natural. I would never have any other way. I’ve never had cultural confusion at all. You know, I have a couple of degrees in Latin American history, I’ve taught Latin American History and Chicano history. You know, I’ve gotten that education. But I became a lawyer to do exactly what Cesar wanted. And so, very few people have that clarity of mind. I didn’t have it by myself. But he gave me that clarity. And he said, “You’re talentoso.” No one had ever said something nice to me. Really. You know, I was living in isolated environments. And it was like, the first validation. And I thought, “oh, okay, I’m with him.”

Gabe Sanders 20:42

So is it around that same time that you began to be sort of politically active in your high school? Or is that before?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 20:49

No, no, I became virtually at the same time. You know, there were many anti-war demonstrations in Stockton, because there were lots of labor unions. And I remember going to them, and then eventually going—my first anti war rally was in 72, you know, that I came into San Francisco. But you know, it’s a funny story. I went there. And I was looking for someone to explain the world to me. And I came across a booth. And it was a Socialist Workers Party. And I read their ideology. And I was a young man, 15 years old, saying, “This ideology makes sense.” There’s the issues of race, class sex. And that’s how you understand the war. And so, at that time, I joined the SWP. Age 15. Sowed the militant for two years, every day at my high school as it were, and positioned myself as a radical. I said, “You just have to get into the fight Antonio.” And so I became very much ideologue, a compassionate one, but I knew that no one could shake race, sex, or class from my understanding of the world. So it gave me a comfort level that I knew I had my core. Now, obviously, I’ve evolved since militant Trotskyism, at age 15. But, you know, that analysis is still appropriate, and I use it every day, in my work.

Gabe Sanders 22:33

So can I take you through a little bit of that period of militant advocacy that you were going through? And can you tell me some of those defining moments in that journey, and perhaps some of the protests or some of the specific actions that you took in high school?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 22:47

Yes, I mean, I can remember the demonstration in San Francisco, where we had 400,000 people essentially crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. And I remember seeing the beauty of hundreds of thousands of people. And I’ll tell you what I saw. I felt religiously that I had seen one of the faces of God. That this is who we are at our best. And that one image has really sustained me. So, even though the left movement, the progressive movement has waned here and there, I treasure that moment, because I love it when people feel united. I love it when people insist that they are powerful, and that they are relevant. When I threw myself into the anti-war movement, and and into the labor movement as a young person, I immersed myself in that. But I chose what my priority was. My priority was being a Chicano and trying to rectify our conditions in the field. Obviously, that dream emerged to be more sophisticated. But it was that moment, I believe itwas 72. And I said, “This is where you want to be. This is where you are. Stay here.”

Gabe Sanders 24:27

Wonderful. And you mentioned, Dolores, and Dolores and Chavez are some big names, obviously. But could you tell me about the impact that perhaps some of the lesser known activists had on the journey that you took from [Chavez’s] bodyguard to his legal representation?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 24:44

Well, just state that question again, so I understand it.

Gabe Sanders 24:50

So Dolores and Chavez have this massive impact on the trajectory of your life. But I assume—obviously, you’re working with a tremendous number of of of activists, both in the in the labor movement and the anti war movement. What are some of the, you know, most impactful experiences that you had with other activists on that journey?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 25:14

Well, as you know, our our our people, our leadership, they went through through training programs. Right? As an example, we have a 400 mile march. How are we going to make it Sacramento? Right? And so, you know, these are marches that we did repeatedly, by the score. You could go into virtually any Latino town, and there would be a core set of people who were already on their way to trying to find justice, not fully understanding what that would be, but trying to find justice in the fields. And so, there was, there was a level of competency that was, that was both earned and it was taught. So what you found among local Chicano leadership in the UFW is they never shirked their duty. You know, this could be the 10th march that they were supposed to organize, you know, that 100 miles on, but they were going to do it. And I’ll tell you, if we hadn’t had that continuity of both training and challenges and an idea, this is where we need to go. No other movement had that, when you think about it. You know, there was a Black Power movement, but it didn’t articulate itself in that way. Right? I mean, this was a very focused thing. And so it was something that that we knew that our very survival counted upon. So there weren’t any slackers, you know? You can’t be slackers, when the woman next to you was 71 years old, and is on the march. Right? And when she’s been an abuela for a really long time. I mean, we always get inspiration from each other. So there was never any lack of enthusiasm. There was always a sense of fear because we knew that we were subject to violence. But I didn’t see—I mean, even though I’ve seen, you know, every film on Cesar and what have you, and some of the violent things that I saw down there—other than the other than the Lettuce Strike, I didn’t witness any violence. But the violence in Salinas was every day. So you can see how awkward it was to come out of Salinas and say, “Please, let me go join a teamster employer, and so that’s why I took the title of the book, which is “Antonio, We Know You,” because that’s what Cesar said. And so I probably have not adequately answered your question. But there wasn’t a paucity of volunteers. You know, there wasn’t a single high school with a couple of 100 students who wouldn’t just rush over and join the march. I mean, it was a movement. And it was the first is the first moment that we’d had since we lost this state as Mexicans, right? And you also have to realize it was a massive cultural movement. So we had, you know, we had all these groups, like Milo and Carlos coming up, and what have you, that we were able to create a self-sustaining, but all by ourselves, this is who we are. We were to create our identity, because it was our identity, we didn’t have to search for it. So between the, between the cultural hero heroes that we have and the clarity of the simple message: we deserve rights. And we will sacrifice and we will let ourselves be beaten if that’s what’s required. But we will keep marching, keep marching, and that was an omnipresent act of faith. So it was, you know, it was marvelous to see. And it was not particularly race conscious. Right. You have to realize the farmworkers, you know, the earliest people were engaged in form worker rights were Filipinos. You have to realize that a third of the leadership were Filipinos. And the fact that we are able to unite our communities was just an extension of, “Yes, we all share the same work and the same lousy working conditions.” So it was a period of there wasn’t any racial tension. Obviously, there was racial tension against white people who hated Mexicans. But among ourselves, we were comfortable. And so we didn’t have the many alienating issues that other movements had. And I mentioned, you know, the Black Panther movement. And so it was a natural. That’s what it was for us.

Gabe Sanders 30:31

Wow. Well, so you’re discovering this sort of radical side if you will, and you’re, you’re being radicalized by the movements that you’re involved in. But you’re still in high school, you’re still a young kid, and you’re a Trotskyist, who is now coming home, or at least to the to the apartment—I’m sorry, the hotel, Room 204, correct? Which is where you’re still with your captors, correct?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 30:57

Yes. Correct.

Gabe Sanders 30:59

How does the radicalization that’s taking place your high school and in the movements that you’re involved in affect your home life, or whatever you call life in 2024?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 31:09

Exactly, well, I mean, first of all, I stayed in El Rancho motel. It was the cheapest motel on on highway 99. That’s the central highway through the Central Valley for 40 miles, 20 Miles either way. Three and a half dollars a night. I spent four years there with people who have become entirely insane within a very small 180 square foot room. What happened is that I realized that I had to push these people out of my mind. And the first way I did that is that I stopped talking. I stopped talking to them. And I stopped talking to them for almost three years. I had a horrible dreams every night, with regard to John, and I took care of John every night for three years of my dreams. So you can see how deep the pain was. And so I stopped talking. I had been always dressed as this little formal kid. You know black slacks and a white shirt and just sticking out like a brown thumb as it were, because no one else was dressed like that. And I said, “I can’t dress like this anymore. I refuse.” And I started making a little bit of money in the fields. And I started buying myself clothes. And I bought clothes that were the opposite of what the Hobsons wanted. You know, they were army jackets. They were were actual worker shirts—blue ones and the brown ones and I started wearing, you know, I started wearing these these epaulets on my collar. They were two raise fists, and brass. I mean, I took myself very seriously, right? And I still feel like every day I wake up with that. But you know, I just don’t wear them anymore. And so I simply did everything which I could do to keep them out of my life. I would either come home very late at night, or I would make sure that I would study in that little laundry room for three and a half hours anything to get away. And I just forced them into silence. And they would scream, really scream in these insane voices. And I just wouldn’t move. So that’s how I broke out. And that’s how I started wearing my own clothes at 15 and my own look at 16 and then did my best to never talk to the Hobsons again when I left for college. So it was the militancy that a young person can have when they hate people so much that you can say, “I can survive for three years without saying basically a word to these people. And I will therefore get the upper hand. And they will come to fear me.”

Gabe Sanders 34:28

And boy did you get the upper hand because then you end up– So, now you’ve cultivated this relationship with Cesar and he’s encouraged you to go to law school. But the first step is to go to UC Santa Cruz Correct?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 34:42


Gabe Sanders 34:42

Can you tell me a little bit about your time at Santa Cruz and how you stayed engaged with the movement as you’re living homeless and getting you know, kind of blindsided by these attacks by the the Hobsons in those early stages?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 34:57

Well, first of all, I remind you that my life has been a life of many saviors. Many saviors who assess that being the first one and the UFW continuing throughout my life and labor. But you know, when when I went to college, I found out that the Hobsons had written to the chancellor, and said that I was fraud, and said that all my scholarships should be taken away. So when I arrived there, I had zero money. And I was living, I was homeless, and I was living on limbs. That was the only time that I was homeless for a few weeks. And if it not been for Dr. Norman O. Brown, who was the most famous professor at UCSC, at the time, who came up to me and said, “My name is Nabil, what’s your name?” And I said, “My name is Antonio.” He said, “What do you think your name comes from?” And I said, “Well, maybe San Antonio de Palawan.” He says, “That’s a really good place to start. But actually, it begins 2400 years earlier.” And he spent 20 minutes telling me every metamorphosis of my name. And then he says, “And by the way, I was born in Mexico.” And so we began speaking in Spanish. The first day, I couldn’t tell him that I didn’t even know whether I was in his school anymore. The second day, I finally had to tell him that these are my true circumstances. And we met for two hours the first two days and the last day for two and a half hours, and he came back to the third day, he says, “I need to see you tomorrow.” I said, “Okay.” “Same time.” And he walked into the chancellor’s office. And this man had, all my moneys restored, every one of them. And there was a price to pay for that. He was very, very clear. He says, to me, “Antonio, never look to the left, or to the right of you. You will never find a student who will be working harder, because you will be working for me. And I’m advocating for you.” His sort of long way: “Don’t disappoint me.” So I just said, “I have another savior, I just know it.” I’m in the school. And I was reading The Route of Poetry with Dr. Brown in public within the first three weeks of meeting him, because I have a nice speaking voice. And I said, “Okay, you’ve been given a gift. So don’t question any of it.” And so I was able to get some scholarships to Latin America, I went through abroad for a couple of years as a UC fellow. And then ultimately, what Norman O. Brown did is that he helped me win the Danforth. As you know, the Danforth is a scholarship, where only– At that time, 3300 universities, they just get to submit one name for each university. And so I competed within my own university with about 80 people. And I became that one name. And then I won it, and that’s what took me to to Stanford. But I wanted to because I’d spent years of my life working on a militant history of a Colombian labor lawyer, who was the first indigenous president ever elected, who was assassinated in 1948. And I thought about how he lived his life, and if you 100 Years of Solitude as you have, you look for the Masacre de las Bananeras in 1928. And there was a labor lawyer who saved that strike against the United Fruit Company. And that was Gaitán. So, between Cesar and Gaitán, I sort of had a complete picture of where I wanted to go. And so it was just– it was a series of blessings. Those saviors continued all my life really. And you know, that was always an astonishing thing. I was very lucky, you know, labor jobs are very hard to get as an attorney. And I worried about it for all of law school. Where am I going to work? I get a labor job in two days. You know, it was just– Very few people get that. I got that. And I ran with it. So and became the first in-house counsel for the largest public sector sector union in San Francisco. So, you know, I’ve had breaks. I have not shared– I do want to say that I did not share any of my story with virtually anyone. My wife knew my children knew as they grew older, but I probably only spoke about it with maybe six or seven people. Because that’s not a way that you introduce yourself. You don’t want to be characterized as, “That’s what happened to him.” But then I realized that– that I’m a male. This happened to me as a male. We live in a culture of machismo, both good and bad. I knew that I would be subjected to some unkindness. And I said, “Well, Antonio, if anybody’s going to take a shot at a boy who survived this, it’s you. It’s you, baby. You have the skills. You can defend yourself. You’re a full-fledged, aggressive litigator, and you’ve lived this life, and you’ve lived this experience, and you’re not going to let your own people down, because you didn’t write their legacy of hard work. You didn’t use your education, to explain what happened to you and share it with the world.” And I was willing to be that whipping boy, if necessary. And what’s happened is that that’s never occurred to me. People just understand its inner truth. I’m sure there have been, you know, certainly unpleasant feelings. I did not even tell my own family, the Salazars, I reunited with them at age 28. Right? I did not tell them about my abuse for 25 years, because I thought they would reject me, and that my brothers would reject me. And I, you know, I just felt that is too much cultural baggage to put on to a family. And remember, the important thing is to remember with trafficked children, that it affects the entire family and the entire community. When I was kidnapped, my family was lost within 10 days. It never reunited again. My father, a despicable person, took the three youngest boys, and he threw everyone out. And there was never a reunification until I returned. And I returned back in ’83. And since that time, I’ve been with him for 42 years, and the family has grown cohesive. They have a sense of pride now as to what they’ve really done. And they finally understand my tale. And I’ll tell you, telling the truth about my family and my father, it nearly cost me my family for about a year, because there were a lot of younger people who had never experienced that. Now, all the older children had experienced the same level of brutality, right? And then now that it’s been a year and a half or so, with rare exception, they’ve all embraced me and said, “You are doing what’s always been needed to be done. And we need to tell everybody that we deserve to be very proud of you.” That was a really hard one struggle, you know, because this family that I worked so hard to put back together, and to find, didn’t know what to do a year and a half ago. And now we’re out on the other side. And everyone’s, you know, on the same path, and everyone’s respectful and kind to me, and everyone’s saying, “Keep going.” Now, that’s the price of writing memoir, but it’s the price of writing an intimate and truthful memoir. I’m glad that I didn’t lose the Salazar’s over. But I was a little fearful there for a while. And I’m going back to spent two weeks with them, and you should know, I talked to my family every day at 5:30 for about 45 minutes to an hour. And it’s the best moment of of the day. So anyway, going on to answer your questions because I know I’m probably slowing down for you.

Gabe Sanders 44:35

No worries, I appreciate you sharing. I think your story is evidence of something you’ve talked about quite a bit which is the sort of perceived expendability of migrant workers in particular, which you experienced obviously firsthand in your youth both as a worker and during your experiences with the Hobsons. But how do you see this perception or how have you seen this perception of the expendability of migrant workers and laborers in general manifesting in the cases that you’ve handled as a union and employee-side labor attorney?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 45:09

Well, generally, Latinos do not get represented, right? We are the last people to be represented. And if you’re in the position that I was in to be National Council, Regional Council for 30 states or what have you, you’re in a position to change that. And so I sought out cases that involve Latinos. And I became a federal attorney, I guess, 35 years ago. And I would do cases, like, for example, I would win consent decrees, based on all Latinas who had been discriminated against. I decided to do what would be eventually a year and a half trial on behalf of 178 Latinas who were fired within one hour of the Union vote, and the work transferred to Texas, just like that with the push of a button. Now, that became a national case. Why did it become a national case? Because for the first time unions realized that their work could be gone in an instant. And so it became a rallying point with national unions. And I won that case. And I got 54 unfair labor practices against Sprint, a multibillion dollar employer and what have you. You know, so many of the new members of unions are people of color. Because they really weren’t encouraged to join in the past. You know, there’s a history of racism. So, for example, when I received the call, to say, “You have to go become a regulatory attorney, because there are 10 companies who want to come in, non-union, and they will not bargain at all with you in terms of the regulations”—and we’re talking billions of dollars—”unless you lose 10,000 workers to begin.” Okay? High price, are we going to do that? No, we’re not going to do it, because all these recent workers are men and women of color. You know, white working class people, their first entrance into the middle class. And so I went up against 32 attorneys. I was the only attorney doing this. And I lost the case, my first case that I’d ever lost in the interim decision. Had a heart attack pretty much on the spot. And I said, “Oh, my God, how do I face 10,000 workers, that I’ve lost? Period.” I said ,”Well, it’s not the final decision, is it, Antonio?” So, I went back against these attorneys, and I won $6.4 billion. And I didn’t lose a single worker. The next year, the same companies tried the same thing. We will not talk to you unless you lose 10,000 workers now, and we will be non-union. And I said, “Well, you want to do it again, we’ll do it again.” So it’s an eight month trial. Right? I didn’t lose a single worker. The the money involved was $7.4 billion. And they’ve never tried it again. I did that, because dammit, you’re not going to come after a white working class or people of color working class and throw them out. You’re just not. And so that’s why I mean– In my unit, there wasn’t a lot of regulatory work that needed to be done. I mean, there was a massive amount which needed to be done, but virtually none was done. I’m in California, 40 million people. Why are we not paying attention to the evolution of technology? What’s going on here? And so by our indifference, all of a sudden we have people demanding 10,000 jobs be taken? Well, we can’t just let that fester. We have to take it on. And I took it on because– and I want to be really clear. I honor all races. If you’re a worker– you know there is no like, over here are these people and over here are those people. No. It’s a working class.

Gabe Sanders 49:48

Wonderful. I mean, your dedication to La Causa is undeniable. So obviously you start out as someone who’s on the streets with them—with the United Farm Workers—and you end up as their representation. How does your role shift once you’re serving as legal counsel?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 50:05

Well I think what happens is that I got out of law school and landed with a very big union, Service Employees International Union. As a result, I was thrown into into the formalized legal representation of unions from that date. Okay. 1983. And so what would happen is that part of my task was to build coalitions, particularly UFW coalitions, and because I was also– By the way, I was the controller of the California Democratic Party for eight years elected statewide, and I spent those eight years building coalitions for the UFW. So I represented both the building trades, and I represented all the telecom trades, and I was a really well known labor attorney. So what I would do is I would take both our democratic monies, as it were, and all of our union monies, and I would say, All right, what is going to be the next– what’s going to be the big struggles of the shares, often about four of them. Right? How do we allot resources for that? How do we allot political power to that? And how do we tell important people the answer’s no, we’re not budging? All right? And how do you do that in a gracious fashion, but also in total solidarity? So I was used to using union strength a lot. So example, you know, I would have a client who was in some, you know, childcare plant, they handled 800-900 children. They had some compliance issues, and some serious ones. And they were three years behind for the federal grants. And I said, “Oh, my goodness, no one told me about this. This is a quite serious.” Millions of dollars. And I thought, you know, this is going to be very, very, very difficult. But I was asked to solve it. And I picked up the phone. And I knew that we had some technical difficulties as at work with our compliance. And I said, “Well, we need time to remediate.” “You’ve had three years, we sent you 20 warnings,” blah, blah, blah. “Well, I’ll tell you what. I can have 300 people down there in four hours. The president’s office, I can have that done today. Or we can do it tomorrow morning. Which way would you like to have it done?” Now, it’s a hard to play. But I won. And my childcare agency with 800 kids didn’t lose a federal funding, didn’t get penalized, and they were also given the come to Moses talk, “you’d better do this correctly this time.” You know, so I use every lever I can use, including just political and labor clout. Because that’s what the employer does, right?

Gabe Sanders 53:38

Absolutely. I mean, you’re using the people’s power, they’re using the power of money, and sometimes people win, which is heartwarming, when it happens. But what and who have motivated you to stay so well connected with this movement as you’ve gained prominence in the legal field?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 53:57

I’ve never left it. My reputation is pretty well known, in California, and somewhat nationally. You should know, though, that in my tribal practice, I’ve represented every California tribe. I wrote the labor law for the state of California for tribes. It’s the most progressive labor law in the country. It requires resolution one year. Period. End of story. Not five years, like under the National Labor Relations Board read. Provides an arbitration board and mutually selected people. And it was so successful that it wasn’t used on my understanding for the first five or six years. So you know, I don’t know why I mentioned that but I try to set an even playing field for labor employers. I try to interject it doesn’t work any other way. All right. Progress will not work. And I’ve done things like you know, which are– This is just one quick story. You know, I receive a message, five minutes before five o’clock. It’s all the unionized janitors in San Francisco. They say, “Antonio, we’re calling you. We’re going out in five minutes.” “Oh.” “We’re shutting down the entire downtown.” “Oh, okay.” So what do I have to do? I have to go with little notice, go down and arraign 220 alleged striker violence. And then we have to go when the strike, which we do because we did shut the entire financial system like that for eight days. You know, no clean offices anywhere, right? And then I had to go back in and also negotiate, “By the way now that we’re done, and we’ve won, Your Honor, I need for you to dismiss all charges.” So I won that. Everybody’s scot-free. You know, so it’s both going from a late notice from a union, a strong union, it has impact, and saying, We’re going to stick with you, we’re going to get you through the strike, we will get you through these false allegations of striker violence, and we’re going to win this goddamn thing. Let me– Just tell me what you need. And of course, obviously, I have my own internal sense of what the client needs. So I mean, I’m used to dramatic gestures like that, because those are real world consequences. That’s what you have to do to to defend working people. So. So anyway.

Gabe Sanders 56:38

Well, so you’ve clearly engaged in a significant amount of legal and political advocacy, in addition to your grassroots organizing. What have you seen to be the most effective methods of empowering and enhancing the material conditions of working class Chicano and Latino communities?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 56:56

Well, you have to start from a position of recognition and pride. You have to say that– Do you understand how much you’ve contributed to this country? We understand its history, its silent history. We have changed that silent history of racism. And the way that you organize people, and I have organized thousands of people, is you have to talk to them one on one. Even if you have an audience of 800, or 1000 people out there, right? You have to be able to connect to that person and make that person believe that what they’re saying about their labor issue is done with pride, is done with dignity, is done with their own insight. And listen to what they have to say, don’t go in and tell a worker what they need to say. Just listen. And if you can’t do that, then you’re not very effective. Because you may have your own notion of what’s going on, but until you hear the aches and pains of surviving under their current conditions, and until you honor that, there’s no reason for them to talk to you. And there’s no reason for them to talk to a union. So, you know, I’ve been very careful in my organizing drives that the bids for the party are many, many other ways to say, “All right, we’re not all here as labor political honchos. All right, that’s not us. I know some of you make a great deal of money from positions. But let’s go back to the basics. Right. And you may have stopped listening to your members, but I but I haven’t. And these are your problems. And so how are we going to rectify things internally in the union and outside the union?” You know, many times union staffing choices, they make the wrong choices. I mean, I went from a union that historically represented almost all white people to a union that has hundreds of thousands of people of color now. So we have an undeniable presence. And we’re also by the way, let us remind ourselves that, you know, we are 64 million strong in terms of Latinos. The Caucasian community is becoming the– not the lesser community but certainly outnumbered by us. It’s a demographic change. It’s a sea change. You will never go back. And what what I’ve taken from all the work that I’ve done is, I consistently see hope and hard work in people’s eyes. Hope for what they would like to get what they’ve already done, and then hope to say, if you help show me the path, I’m going to stick with you. And once you have proven yourself to me, once you’ve proven your union to me, I will stick with you I will sign. And that’s what I just found has worked. I found other people do it on really ruthless way. It’s just, it’s just intolerable. So I think my best feature is listening and identifying with them.

Gabe Sanders 1:00:36

I mean, it takes it takes a tremendous amount of empathy and compassion. And it sounds like that’s definitely the way to go.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:00:42


Gabe Sanders 1:00:42

But, so you’ve been clearly involved in, you know, the anti war movement, the labor rights movement, the indigenous movement. In these movements, what do you see as the place of nonviolent resistance?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:00:56

Well, first of all– and I’ve also been very active in the LGBT movement. As you know, I won the first transgender case for SEIU. I’ve been doing that for 35 years as well. What do I see as what again?

Gabe Sanders 1:01:13

The place of nonviolent resistance.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:01:15

Okay, it’s really important. And basically, it’s very important with, with what’s happening, particularly right now, with the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the horrific choices they have made. And of course, has increased anti-semitism for the next 200 years. I’m Jewish. And so it’s very difficult to see what a theocracy, what a reactionary theocracy is carrying out in your name. And we’ll see how that evolves. I keep forgetting your question, because I do have a specific answer to it. Just say it one more time.

Gabe Sanders 1:02:03

Sure. Yeah, the place of nonviolent civil resistance.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:02:06

Okay, so anyway, against that backdrop, what’s very important is that we have to learn from from the lessons of the 50s and 60s. We have to learn that non violence is the only option. We have to learn civil disobedience is the is the only option. We have to let go of any armed struggle, we have to let go of any fighting with with enforcement agencies. We sit there, we stay seated, we stay we cover our heads, and we let ourselves be beaten. Because we’re not going to go anywhere. Selma shows us everything. Martin Luther King shows everything. Do you think we will ever have the army to take on the dominant forces? No. But just like Gandhi did, he shattered an empire with a simple ideology, civil disobedience. So what I really want to make sure is that whatever is happening right now in the student movement, that they have the power of the First Amendmen, they take care in not falling into the sort of anti-semitic problems that occur through inadvertence. They have to really understand that there’s that there is a role—that we do have a history as Jews of what’s happened to us. And at the same time, we have to judge everyone by the same standards, I judge people by simple standard. People by simple standard and countries. It is a simple question: do you provide equal civil rights or not? Yes or no? And if the answer is no, that takes you towards a more apartheid-like system. And if the answer is yes, then you should be proud of yourself. So I, you know, I’m hopeful that these that these young people—these brave young people in their elders, and I hope to be among them—learn that we don’t try killing the monster. It can’t be killed. We outsmart the monster. We stand still, with our feet planted in the ground. And just as the African Americans were pummeled in Selma, we have to be willing to do that. That goes farther than anything else. So I really want this new movement to remember its history and not be some kind of, you know, adventurous, you know, because adventurism doesn’t require hard work. Uniting people requires hard work.

Gabe Sanders 1:05:05

Absolutely. And I think the message that you’re espousing here is certainly one that Chavez espoused throughout his life. You developed an incredible memory during your time in captivity. And clearly you still have that today. Can you tell me about your final memories with with Chavez, during his later years?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:05:29

Yes, actually my final memory was attending his funeral. And I remember going with my wife and my two babies. And just that pouring sun and just the heat emanating also from the people who were there, because there was several hundred. And– It was a, you know– It was a passing, you know– It was the passing of a– of a giant. So– You know, it was hard, and so then, you know, Dolores took over completely. And I’ll tell you, I’ve never admired anybody’s strength more than hers. She’s the most humble person. I have done campaigns with her, over the years. She walks in, and she says “Hello, I’m Dolores.” She’s then sits down at one of the telephone desks, doesn’t say hello to anybody, picks up, she says, “I’m Dolores Huerta. May I ask you to support so and so?” And all of a sudden, the entire staff, volunteers, paid people are galvanized, and all of a sudden the energy goes up 300%. Because that’s who she is. So I mean, you know, my understanding is that there is going to be a movie about her. And, you know, she so much deserves it. And she also suffered the fact of not being recognized for many years, for the full force she was. So, if we go back to the beginning, I had a couple clear points of view: I never wanted to be white, I wanted to be a pro Chicano, and one of my culture, and I wanted to protect my people. And that is a vision shared by millions of us. And I just happen to have some advocacy skills that I can contribute to that.

Gabe Sanders 1:08:18

Thank you for sharing. You know, I attend school in Wisconsin, which has its own history of agrarian movements and an ongoing tradition, as you’ve just mentioned, of student activism–

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:08:32

And socialism, early socialism.

Gabe Sanders 1:08:34

Exactly, socialism. What would you like Midwesterners and perhaps specifically members of the UW Madison community to take away from your story?

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:08:46

I would like for them to say this is clear proof that we are survived, that we are– we are, you know, como decimos estamos presente. And that we are willing to be at your side, but we demand respect for our history and from what we suffered. I think we’ve come to the point where we can be a little choosy and say, “You either get it or you don’t get it.” All right. And you’re either part of the solution, or you’re part of the or you’re part of the problem. And without guilt tripping people, I think what we can do is, is we can invite every person—you have to assume that every person has a good heart somewhere, right? Now, of course, that’s a falsehood, and we understand that at times. But you know, one of the things is that you do not browbeat people to support you. You explain it in the most human terms and say this could apply to you. This could apply to your daughter. This is how your food is put on the table, you’ve got to have some sense of responsibility. But you have to see it in accessible, palatable language. I’ll tell you that I, you know, I really, I have great hope in the future. I believe that there’s going to be a resurgence of a student movement. I think it’s going to define our best approach against fascism. I think that this new movement they are at the head of the of the phalanx. Let us give them some advice but the most important one is stay peaceful, and withstand the blows. And then let them go do what they do. So I feel that if people are presented a way to resist and discover that that one simple way of resisting, like sitting down in the park and not moving, that’s all they need. So I feel really privileged and honored to have been in any of these moments of victory. You know, all victory goes to the union, all victories goes to the tribes, and all victories go to women of color and Latinas that I represent.

Gabe Sanders 1:11:30

Well, Antonio, I think we’re nearing our allotted time. So I want to thank you so much for the time that we’ve spent together. This will conclude the oral history with Antonio Salazar-Hobson. I appreciate your time very much.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:11:45

Well, I want to add in closing that Gabriel, you are exactly the future that I’m talking about. I could not be more proud of what your family, I cannot be more proud of you going to UCLA and and coming to the side of good, good working people. You are a rarity. Not that rare, but you are a rarity. And you know, you’re very similar to how I was that. I knew I was going to go to something. I knew I was not going to stay silent. Well, you’re not going to stay silent either. And so I congratulate you. And obviously anything I can do in the future to be of assistance you let me know. Okay. Well.

Gabe Sanders 1:12:41

Thank you very much. You had your North Stars, but I have you to be mine. So thank you so much.

Antonio Salazar-Hobson 1:12:47

All right. Thank you so much, Gabe. Bye bye Ciao. Te veo.

[1] Salazar-Hobson, Antonio, Photo. https://www.antoniosalazarhobson.com/.