Los Angeles Times
February 25, 2004

Heinz Kerry Takes to Field for Spouse

By Susannah Rosenblatt
Times Staff Writer
 

DELANO, Calif. -- Teresa Heinz Kerry, in a campaign stop hundreds of miles off the beaten path, appealed for votes on behalf of her husband, John F. Kerry, to a crowd of about 75 people gathered at United Farm Workers headquarters here in the farmland of Kern County.

Heinz Kerry spoke of immigration, healthcare and education to a mostly Latino crowd waving flags and red signs emblazoned with the black Aztec eagle of the UFW.

"Voting, participating is very important We need the leader not just a leader but the leaders of our country to understand the reality of the world, not just of the United States, but the world."

Heinz Kerry's visit to the dusty San Joaquin Valley farming community had some historical significance for people here, from where Cesar Chavez led the fight for field laborers' rights in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Though she is a millionaire by background heiress to the Heinz food company fortune and the wife of a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, Heinz Kerry stressed her upbringing as the daughter of Portuguese parents in Mozambique.

UFW organizers joined her on stage and union President Arturo Rodriguez described her as "the first immigrant in the White House."

After first explaining in proficient Spanish how she could deliver her speech more precisely in English, Heinz Kerry gave her 20-minute remarks slowly, allowing a Spanish-speaking translator to repeat them.

She outlined Kerry's immigration policy, which includes earned legalization for immigrants in good standing, reuniting families and helping undocumented individuals in the military to become U.S. citizens.

Heinz Kerry touched on Kerry's proposals for free college education in exchange for volunteer service and expanded healthcare coverage, which drew applause.

"Healthcare should not be a benefit for few. Healthcare should be a right for all," she said.

Heinz Kerry, speaking over crying children and a chattering crowd outside the meeting hall, remained unflappable when her microphone went dead for a few minutes.

The crowd filled the suddenly muted air with hand claps and chants of "Si, se puede" ("Yes, we can").

"If you don't dream, you don't go there," she told the crowd. "Oportunidad, esperanza y determinacion," she said in conclusion to cheers of "Si, se puede" and "Viva John Kerry," as the crowd moved to serve themselves beans and tortillas.

Heinz Kerry recounted meeting Chavez with her first husband, then Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) at a 1990 meeting on environmental safety, and described the farmworkers' leader as "a giant in the field of rights, human rights."

Wearing a lapel pin of the Chavez commemorative postage stamp, Heinz Kerry told reporters the significance of traveling to Delano, where two Democratic presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in 1988 had come.

"It's a proud history here, a proud people. It's a pretty tolerant country, but we have a lot of work to do," she told reporters.

Many here said they were heartened by Heinz Kerry's visit to this community of 39,000 where a substantial number of people live in poverty.

"There's a silent voice that's not being heard," said Marcos Camacho, 45, a lawyer from Bakersfield who represents farmworkers. "I think President Bush does not really see the suffering that workers, farmworkers have. Just right here in the San Joaquin Valley we have hundreds of children that go hungry every single night." Raquel Espinoza, 75, a UFW member since 1970 and resident of Dinuba, Calif., said she was glad to "hear what [Heinz Kerry] had to say."

"I talked with her a little bit," Espinoza said. She said she told Heinz Kerry, "If your husband gets elected and he at least complies with half of what he's been saying, I'll be happy."

"Now it's just words," her husband, Daniel, 75, agreed. "If he gets elected president, hopefully he'll fulfill them."