Commentary by Artists
Kathy Murguía: I remember singing De Colores at the weekly Friday night strike meetings that were held in
before the merger of the NFWA with AWOC (1965/66). They were held at a Church Hall we rented. It was called Negrito Hall by the
, located on the west side of
where the African-American community lived.
Cesar ran the meeting asking for reports from the picket captains. He would make comments and provide information about outside support, which always brought a rousing applause. If there was an outside supporter, they would be introduced. There would be a report on donations, which Jim Drake was in charge of. I kept minutes in a grey ledger book that also was used for marking off the $5 weekly stipend that was distributed at the end of the meeting. Every meeting ended with us joining hands and singing De Colores, which enhanced a sense of community, of being connected in a struggle for justice. We continued to sing it in the decades following those early meetings, during Union events and other gatherings, often as a closing. The rooster, the hen, the chicks that sing, the great loves of many colors---these images brought such joy, such pleasure and lastly for those who sang it, such hope.
For me, singing De Colores felt powerful. Even today, recalling the smiles and brightness on the faces of the workers as they sang provides a sense of hope. We were part of a Movement, and in small incremental ways, we believed we were changing the course of history, and ending exploitation.
The song's origin: It was first sung, I believe, in the Cursillo Movement, a lay movement in the Catholic Church. The goal of the movement was to spiritually revitalize its members, and began in the 50’s. It involved weekend retreats for church members. The notions of social justice and reaching out to others with love were central to the mission. Many of the farm worker families were familiar with the song. While the lyrics don't speak of social justice, it is a song of the season of springtime and beauty, of life and colors---and we were all kinds of different colors. I believe as we sang, our hearts were longing for the beauty that comes with gentle love and justice.
Abby Rivera: I was familiar with De Colores as a child but never learned all the words until I was with the
. We sang it all the time, before, during or after membership or staff meetings, at special events, at funerals, and at memorial services. We always stood, with arms crossed in front---reaching to the right and to the left---to hold hands with someone else.
I grew extremely weary of this song early on until I discovered something uncanny about it. “Here we go again,” I would complain to myself many times while making faces. Then we would begin to sing, and after the first few lines my entire demeanor and attitude would change. By the time the song was over, a total transformation of my spirit would occur, making me glad that I had sung it after all. It came to be considered my spiritual cleansing song, because the words reached deep into my soul and took me to another place where things are perfect, in harmony, of like mind and purpose. It is easy to understand why this simple song has survived centuries.