Eliseo Vasquez Medina was born on January 24, 1946, in Huanusco, a town located in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. The son of a laborer who worked in the California fields under the Bracero Program, Medina moved to Delano, California, with his family at the age of 10 after spending almost two years in Tijuana waiting for permission to cross the border because his mother insisted on obtaining legal entry.
In 1965, as a 19-year-old grape picker, Medina joined the historic Delano grape strike and became one of César Chávez's most influential lieutenants. A year after he first joined the union, Medina appeared on the cover of its newspaper, El Malcriado, as one of the UFW's "Young Tigers," and in 1968, the union asked him to head its grape boycotting efforts in Chicago, where he stayed for a year. For 13 years, he participated in most of the major organizing battles fought by the union and rose to the rank of second national vice president. Many considered Medina to be a logical successor to Chávez as head of the UFW. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1978, Medina left the UFW over disputes about the direction in which the union was headed.
After organizing university workers in California and public employees in Texas, Medina joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) where he rose to executive vice president, the first Mexican American to reach such a high position in the organization. He worked closely on immigration initiatives, helped to strengthen ties between the Catholic Church and the labor movement, and concentrated on issues such as worker rights and access to health care.
Pawel, Miriam. The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009; Aubry, Erin. "Conversation With Labor Ground-Breaker Eliseo Medina." The Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1996.