Librada Paz is a Council Member of Western New York for the Rural and Migrant Ministry (RMM) and one of the main heads for RMM's Justice for Farmworkers Campaign (JFW). She has been a tireless leader in New York’s farmworker human rights movement for 20 years.
"I do not have the words to describe how honored I feel to receive this award," said 2012 RFK Human Rights Award laureate Librada Paz. "For years, through late nights and early mornings, RMM and I have organized workers to advocate for change, and this new partnership with the RFK Center will help us have an even greater impact. I'm delighted to be recognized and eager to begin our work together fighting for workers' rights."
At the age of 15, Ms. Paz and her sister migrated to the United States to join their brothers and began working in the fields as soon as she arrived. Her life as a farmworker consisted of sharing living quarters with as many as 16 people and chasing seasonal work around the country. She experienced firsthand the hardships of sub-standard housing, long hours in grueling heat, and the constant moves to follow seasonal crops. Even worse, as a young female farmworker, she suffered physical and sexual abuse by labor contractors and growers who were in positions of power. After enduring the many hardships in agricultural labor for 15 years, she settled in New York and obtained her immigration status. She stopped working in the farms and instead engaged in the struggle as an activist and a voice for farmers.
Currently, Ms. Paz conducts her human rights advocacy with the Rural Migrant Ministry (RMM), an organization founded in 1981 that focuses on rectifying the various injustices that farmworkers face. It is a statewide, non-sectarian organization that seeks rural justice through three programs: accompaniment, education, and youth empowerment. Its mission is to create a just rural New York state by standing with the disenfranchised (especially farm and rural workers), promoting their leadership, and addressing unjust systems and structures.
"Since the 1930s, New York’s farmworkers have been excluded from the same rights and protections that other laborers have depended on for generations, including a day of rest per week, overtime pay, disability insurance, and the right to bargain collectively with their employers. This legislation would reverse 80 years of systemic injustice on our farms, and Ms. Paz will be an unparalleled leader as we take this campaign for fair labor rights from the field to the Capitol." - Kerry Kennedy, President, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
"Librada Paz has demonstrated undaunted courage in the face of overwhelming difficulty. A child laborer from age 15, she endured the 14-hour work days and endemic sexual assault, abuse, and racism that run rampant in our agricultural fields. And against all odds she graduated from college and has devoted herself to reversing these human right violations." - Martin Sheen, Board Member, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights
"A farmworker herself, Ms. Paz is one of the most credible voices on the dire conditions that affect them. At the same time, she embodies an important message of human dignity and hope. She demonstrates that through organization and commitment rights are obtainable, improving both the conditions of farm workers and society at large." - Claudio Grossman, Dean, American University Washington College of Law
"Ms. Paz personifies the grit and passion of a great human rights champion. She’s lived, and overcome, the horror of being a victim to become one of the greatest defenders of farmworkers in the United States." - Makau Mutua, Dean, Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York
"Robert F. Kennedy cared deeply about farmworkers. Librada represents the best of that movement and, indeed, of all those who struggle for justice. At a moment in American history in which immigrants and the foreign-born are being marginalized, even demonized, the RFK Center is committed to standing with all communities who ask nothing more than a fair chance to realize equitable compensation and a decent life—fundamental components of the American dream." – Dr. William Schulz, President and CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee