WATSONVILLE — Adán Ramirez was known for his activism with the United Farm Workers union, and is perhaps best remembered for marching nearly 200 miles from Madera to Sacramento to advocate for farm worker rights when he was in his 70s.
Known more formally as Don Adán, Ramirez was a fixture around Watsonville, and was frequently seen walking through the city, his cowboy hat on his head and his signature cowboy boots on his feet.
Ramirez died on Nov. 4 after a car struck him as he crossed Airport Boulevard three days earlier. He was 89.
Luis Alejo, former Watsonville mayor and current Monterey County Supervisor, described Ramirez as a “legend.”
“He was beloved by many, and most elected officials highly respected him as a pillar of the farmworker right movement on the Central Coast,” Alejo said. “He will surely be missed being seen walking around town or carrying his bright farm worker flag.”
UFW spokesman Giev Kashkooli called Ramirez an “incredible leader and champion.”
“He modeled for all of us what it meant to march, to walk a picket line, to get out the vote, to support one another, and to be a member and leader of the United Farm Workers,” Kashkooli said.
According to the UFW, Ramirez was born on Sept. 17, 1929, the oldest of three brothers and three sisters in Tituitatlan, Jalisco, Mexico. He first came to the United States as a bracero farm worker during the early 1960s, laboring in California and Texas.
He spent time as a migrant farm worker in California before returning to Mexico in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He married Guadalupe Torres and they had 15 children.
Ramirez called Watsonville home for the past four decades. He worked in the local strawberry, nursery and mushrooms industries. His wife died in 2012, and he lived by himself in a senior’s apartment in Watsonville.
According to UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, Ramirez first came to the union’s office in the 1980s and said, “I want to be helpful.”
And he did just that for years, Rodriguez said.
“He was a special person,” Rodriguez said. “He inspired us all because of his great attitude, and his willingness to serve while expecting nothing in return. You don’t meet many people like Don Adán in your lifetime. He was a man of true service.”
Ramirez helped during legislative and political campaigns, as well as strikes, boycotts and marches across California.
He also kept the UFW offices clean and organized, Rodriguez said.
“He wanted to make sure the farm workers felt respected,” he said.
Ramirez also picketed supermarkets in Watsonville in support of UFW boycotts or campaigns. In addition, he traveled to Sacramento in 2016 to help California farm workers win overtime pay, the UFW said.
He was in his 70s when he marched 175 miles from Madera to Sacramento in 2002, and his 80s when he marched from Merced to Sacramento in 2011, both times to campaign for farm worker rights, Rodriguez said.
During both those marches, it was Ramirez’s stoicism that earned him lifelong respect from his fellow activists and farmworkers, Rodriguez said.
“He would take off the boots at night and you could see the blisters,” he said. “But he never stopped, and he never complained.”
A memorial service and reception in Salinas for Ramirez is set between 4 and 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 9 in the Central Coast Farm Worker Center Hall at 118 East Gabilan St. in Salinas. A second reception for family and friends in Watsonville is scheduled from 2-9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel, 609 Main St. in Watsonville.