Rito Nunez is a Mexican-American male born in 1946 to a big family that would later consist of 16 children. he was very family oriented, even though before his childhood was up he departed from his mother and some of his siblings, they reunited later on in his teen years. Rito lived all over the Bay Area during his early life, living with his Uncle and Aunt in Hayward, then finding his mother and living with her in Oakland for a while, where he met his soon-to-be wife Patricia Ramirez. With Patricia, Rito had four children who subsequently gave him eleven grandchildren who look up to him as a role model, and six great-grandchildren. Rito held many different jobs in an effort to make a better life for himself and his family. he worked as a mechanic, he was a field worker, and he joined the Marines in his mid-20’s. During his time in the Marines he was involved in the Vietnam War. his job was an Amphibious Tractor operator. he was not only stationed in Vietnam, but also in Japan, the Philippines ,and San Diego. His time working in the fields coincides with the start of the United Farm Workers Union. During the latter part of his life, after his time in the Marines was up and he got injured while working as a mechanic he moved to Gilroy, California and has resided here for close to twenty years with his wife. This paper will examine his early life, the jobs that he held in pursuit of a better life, more specifically his involvement in the Vietnam War.
December 11, 2013
The Life and Times of Rito Nunez
Rito Nunez has lived in California his entire life, with the exception of when he joined The Marines and went Vietnam and Asian Countries. The Bay Area was where he was born and raised and where he raised his children. Rito has held many jobs throughout his lifetime, all in the interest of supporting his family.
Rito Nunez was born July 8, 1946 in Oakland, California, to his mother, Lucy Ponce, and his father, Ignacio Nunez. His father was born in Mexico and moved to California. Once he got to California he worked as a miner and a farm manager, as a miner he worked for the Quicksilver Mining Company. He was a hard worker who was trying to make money to support his family, but he left them in or around 1956. His mother was born in Hollywood, California, of Hispanic and Portuguese descent. She worked in canneries and she also did field work throughout her life to support her family. Lucy Ponce was not only Rito’s mother but the mother of 15 other children, yes you read that right she had a total of 16 children throughout her lifetime. Lucy’s 16 children were, Bobby, Theresa, Nelly, Marie, Rito, Ignacio Jr., Johnny, Ray, Manuel, Irene, Inez, Flora, Mary Rose, Rosalie, and Julian.
Rito lived all over the Bay Area, including Oakland, Hayward, Union City, San Jose, and Gilroy. He was also in the Marines and was stationed in San Diego, Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines. During his childhood he lived with his Aunt Helen and Uncle Pete, in the East Bay. He didn’t live with his mother until the early 60’s, because him and his siblings were adopted out to other members of his family. Even though he didn’t live with his mother until later he describes his childhood as a happy one, he didn’t have his parent but he had parent-like figures in his uncle and aunt, because as previously stated he and his siblings were adopted out to other family members that took care of them.
Rito spent his educational years attending elementary school, junior high school, and high school in Hayward, California; he believed that education was a really important aspect to his life. He also believed that he needed his education so that later on in life he could help his family survive, or to rephrase he believed that education would help him make money to support his family.
Rito held several different jobs throughout his life. He did field work, was a Marine, and worked as a mechanic. The first job that he had was a s a field worker, I think that he became a field worker because a lot of people in his family including his mother were field workers .The second job that he held was as a mechanic, he attributes his Uncle Pete as the influence in becoming a mechanic. He then went on to become an operator of tractors and loaders, and then he was a machinist at mills, and also a welder. Then one of the final big careers he had was joining the Marines as a heavy equipment operator. The final career that he had in life was as a mechanic; unfortunately he got injured on the job, and the injury that would ended his ability to work any longer.
Rito married Patricia Ramirez when he was 19 and she was 15 on November 16, 1965. They first met when Rito reunited with his mother, because Patricia lived right next door. Together they had four children, Vince Nunez on December 27, 1965, Frank Nunez on May 29, 1968, Rick Nunez on June 5, 1969, and Lori Johnston né Nunez on January 26, 1971. From his the four of his children he received eleven grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.
Rito became involved with the United Farm Workers Union early in his life as evident by the fact that field work was the first job that he had held; his mother could have possibly been involved with the UFW as well. Before the creation of the UFW, and before Cesar Chavez began his journey for organizing labor unions withing the farming community, efforts were made to organize union as early as 1900, these efforts included organizations, such as “ethnic labor associations, radical networks and the American Federation of Labor” (Ganz 23). Ganz relays to us that although there have been many efforts they were all ultimately failures until the 1960’s and with the development of the UFW (Ganz 23). The UFW came about through the efforts of Cesar Chavez, who on March 32, 1962 “resigns from the Community Service Organization after the group refuses to commit to organizing farm workers…. Dedicates himself full-time to organizing farm workers” (UFW). The United Farm Workers website also tells us that from 1962 to 1965 “Chavez drives to dozens of farm worker towns throughout California, painstakingly building up the membership of his infant organization” (UFW). For Rito all of this was happening in his early twenties around the time that he met Patricia and started to have children. The United Farm Workers website relates to us what Cesar Chavez went through from February 1968 to March of 1968, and the support that he received from many people.
Responding to growing talk by mostly male strikers about resorting to the use of violence, Chavez fasts for 25 days in Delano during the hungry winter of 1968 to rededicate his movement to the principals of nonviolence practiced by M.K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Just a month before he is assassinated Dr. King sends a warm message expressing solidarity. Senator Robert Kennedy joins 8,000 farm workers and supporters at a Catholic Mass where Chavez breaks his fast, calling the weakened farm labor leader ‘one of the heroic figures of out time.’ There is no more talk of violence by the strikers (UFW).
Chavez was dedicated to peaceful protest, so much that he fasted until the strikers stopped talking about resorting to violence that is a really inspiring choice that he made to stem any possible violence of strikers. From January to October of 1979, the UFW tried to better wages and benefits of workers who worked for some of the major lettuce and vegetable growers all over California, but in their striking efforts one of the foremen shot a 27 year old striker in a lettuce field (UFW). This shows me that even though the protesters and strikers made have been peaceful, the people that are being protested against were not as peaceful they resorted to extreme measures. By the time that all of the major protesting started Rito had already joined the Marines and was out the field working lifestyle.
Rito Nunez volunteered to join the Marines during the Vietnam War, leaving behind his children and wife. His job in the Marines was as an amphibious tractor operator, which was a troop carrier. The United States joined the war siding with the government of South Vietnam against the Communist Government of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. Simmons tells us that one of problems in South Vietnam was that the government was inadequate, adamant, and corrupt (Simmons). One of the reasons we sided with the government of South Vietnam because it was the big, bad communists against a weak government in the south . Simmons talks about the types of actions that were taken by President Kennedy, and recommendations that were made to help solve the conflict in South Vietnam.
As the situation continued to deteriorate, Kennedy set two key advisers, economist Walt W. Rostow and former army chief of staff Maxwell Taylor, to Vietnam in the fall of 1961 to assess conditions. The two concluded that the South Vietnamese government was losing the war with the Viet Cong and had neither the will nor the ability to turn the tide on its own. They recommended a greatly expanded program of military assistance, including such items as helicopter and armored personnel carriers, and an ambitious plan to place American advisers and technical experts at all levels and in all agencies of the Vietnamese government and military. They also recommended the introduction of a limited number of U.S. Combat troops, a measure the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been urging as well (Simmons).
Although Rito volunteered to join the Marines in wartime, there was also a draft that happened, and with the end of the draft and the negative feelings for the Vietnam War that a lot of Americans had during this time led to a major problem when it came to recruiting in new soldiers (Simmons, 324). It makes me think of all the men that came before that willingly signed up to become a Marine and fight in a war, and how they feel about how people negatively viewed joining the Marines.
As previously stated he got injured on the job, this lead to surgeries on his back that were ultimately unsuccessful, even causing more pain and health problems. He still spends as much time with his family as he can, being the patriarch of his family, his children and grandchildren visit him as often as they can.
I learned a lot when I interviewed Rito Nunez. He is a family man through and through, he would do anything for his family, but at the same time he is loyal to his country, as seen by his volunteering to go into the Marines during the Vietnam War. He taught me that family is there for you no matter what, and they give you unconditional love. Another thing that I learn from him is that not only can you be fiercely loyal to your family and do anything to protect them, you can also be fiercely loyal to your country and the idea of freedom.
Ganz, Marshall. Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organizations, and Strategy in California Farm Worker Movement. Oxford University Press. 2010, Print. 7 Dec. 2013.
Simmons, Edwin H. ed., et al. The Marines. Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, 2012. Print.
“UFW Chronology.” United Farm Workers. United Farm Workers Union. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.