In an emotional program that frequently brought audience members to their feet and provoked shouts of “Si, se puede!”, Anita and Lorenzo Torrez, two participants in the historic filming of Salt of the Earth, were honored at a special session of the CPUSA’s national committee on June 28.

Fifty years have elapsed since the award-winning Salt of the Earth was filmed. The movie portrays the struggle of Mexican American miners and their wives in a bitter strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico in 1950.

Lorenzo Torrez was one of the strikers and, when the film was made in 1953, had a speaking role. Anita was involved in the movie, too, and special emphasis in the film is given to the role of women in helping to win the strike.

The movie made cinema history in several ways: not only did the miners and their wives portray themselves in the film, but the lead actress, Rosaura Revueltas, was deported by the U.S. government before the filming was completed, its producer and writer were blacklisted for many years, and the film was the only movie banned in the U.S. during the anti-Communist hysteria of the McCarthy years. It wasn’t shown to the public until 1965.

“Fifty years later,” said Anita, “Salt of the Earth seems to be reviving.” The things it stood for – including the struggle for worker dignity and social equality – are still the things to fight for, she said.

Lorenzo related how the workers sent the film’s script back to Hollywood for a re-write many times to ensure that the leading role of the Mexican American miners was accurately portrayed.

He said that the fury of the mine operators against the workers in 1950 was fueled by two things: “They didn’t want to pay us as much as the white miners were getting, and the companies feared that the Mexican American workers were becoming politically astute. So they went after the union.”

Tributes to the couple came from Roberta Wood, labor editor of the PWW/NM, Dee Myles, chair of the CPUSA education commission, Evelina Alarcon, vice-chair of the CPUSA, Jarvis Tyner, executive vice-chair of the Party, Carolyn Trowbridge, a spokesperson from their Party club in Tucson, and Sam Webb, national chairman of the CPUSA. Alarcon called the couple “the epitome of what Communists should be,” whose life stories and personal warmth have inspired countless Mexican American youth. Webb called Lorenzo and Anita “the true salt of the earth, our gems,” and “great fighters for our class, for the Mexican American people, and for our Party.”

– Mark Almberg