Lizárraga, 69, has worked for La Cooperativa Campesina de California for the past 19 years.
La Cooperativa is a non-profit organization representing and providing funding for federally designated Farm Worker Grantees in California who deliver employment and training services to farm workers throughout the State.
Born and raised in Mexicali, Baja California Norte, México, Lizárraga came to the United States upon completing sixth grade and working in the fields. He graduated in 1966 from high school in Calexico and went on to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for a couple of years to study electronic engineering but eventually switched majors and schools.
“I got a job teaching English as a second language,” Lizárraga said.
He added that because of his experience teaching English to farm workers it motivated him to change majors in college and transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara where he obtained his degree in economics. Lizárraga also has a master’s degree in educational technology from the California State University, Sacramento.
Lizárraga has a diverse work experience, including employment and training, and housing consulting. He has also been involved in several social justice causes including as a volunteer for the grape boycott, as well as a volunteer organizing strawberry workers in Oxnard to participate on strike with César Chávez’ UFW.
Lizárraga said working with farm workers is a cause very important to him because he sees his parents, who also worked in the fields in California, in those farm workers that he provides assistance through his non-profit organization.
“It’s very close to my heart,” he said.
Lizárraga said his organization manages to get $13.2 million to provide jobs for farm workers, primarily, who were impacted by the drought.
“It’s my calling,” Lizárraga said of helping the farm workers. “My dad died working on the fields.”
“To me it’s natural. Never did it because I was going to get something out of it,” he said. “To some of us who work in this area it’s just normal.”
Lizárraga’s commitment to the Latino community is also exemplified by the many organizations he has been a part of — he is a Founder of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS) at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, was an active Member of MECHA at UC Santa Barbara, a Planning Commissioner in Woodland, and is a Board Member of Farm Worker Justice in Washington, D.C.
For Lizárraga the award means a lot to him especially when that recognition comes from the Latino Caucus.
“It is incredibly humbling. It has great significance,” Lizárraga said of his recognition. “Don’t tell me I really deserve this. I feel I was just doing something normal.”
Lizárraga said that is something he never dreamt of when he was a student at the university — to see this many legislators that are Latinos representing the growing Latino population in the state.
“To me it’s overwhelming to have them recognize me because I have great admiration for them and makes me so happy to see them,” Lizárraga said of the growing number of Latino representation at the state legislature.
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