The Arizona route 10 highway always enchants me and mesmerizes me with its profusion of cactus and glorious sunsets. Driving back to Los Angeles from a weekend in Tucson, I decided to make a rest stop at a Yuma coffee shop. The coffee shop was filled with a combination of truck drivers, weary tourists and local motorcycle club members.
Nothing says “Americana” like the roadside cafes dotting the highways and byways of America. It was here over a gigantic mug of coffee and piece of apple pie that I marvelled over how our food is transported across the highways and ends up on our plates. I also thought about Yuma’s most famous American Patriot - Cesar E. Chavez.
Cesar Chavez was born and raised in Yuma, Arizona, until the age of 10 when his family lost their ranch and family store. The family packed up their belongings and headed off to California where they found work as farm laborers. The family moved from field to field, wherever they could find work. It is said that Cesar attended 37 schools by the time he was in eighth grade. At age seventeen, Cesar joined the Navy to escape poverty and hopefully start a new life. After returning from the service, Cesar joined the Community Service Organization in California and started a voter registration drive.
In 1962, Cesar formed the National Farm Workers Association along with Dolores Huerta. They worked to bring pride and dignity to all farm workers. Chavez a believer in nonviolence held marches and fasted for the rights of workers.
Chavez stated on his fasting:
“A fast is first and foremost personal. It is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind, and soul. The fast is also a heartfelt prayer for purification and strengthening for all those who work beside me in the farm worker movement.
The fast is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all men and women activists who know what is right and just, who know that they could and should do more. The fast is finally a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets who promote and sell and profit from California table grapes.
During the past few years I have been studying the plague of pesticides on our land and our food,” Cesar continued “The evil is far greater than even I had thought it to be, it threatens to choke out the life of our people and also the life system that supports us all. This solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and helpless. I pray to God that this fast will be a preparation for a multitude of simple deeds for justice. Carried out by men and women whose hearts are focused on the suffering of the poor and who yearn, with us, for a better world. Together, all things are possible.”
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus sought to honor Chavez on his birthday this year with a resolution which would recognize his life achievements. Without an explanation this act was quietly stopped by Senate Republicans using a parliamentary procedure. One wonders about the insensitivity of the GOP. While we watch John McCain apologizing for voting against a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. a quarter of a century ago, should we believe him? His party, which once stood against a national holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr., is now blocking a holiday honoring Cesar E. Chavez. And for what reason? For supporting living wages? Health care for children? Corporate greed? Demanding that workers to be treated with dignity and respect?
Will we be able to organize and honor this American hero with a naional holiday?
Si se puede – Yes, it can be done!
Leaving Yuma, I thought about the Chavez family and their plight. Their young son Cesar, grew up to be one our most beloved American heroes. A man whose compassion and activism to bring dignity and respect for farm laborers touches our hearts and minds. A man whose legacy shines brighter than any of the stars in the Arizona sky. A treasured national hero who Robert F. Kennedy called, “one of the greatest heroes of our lifetime.” Let us honor this man who inspires and empowers us all to be better human beings.
Please join me in signing the UFW’s petition to declare a national holiday for Cesar E. Chavez. The petition can be found at the following address: UFW CHAVEZ HOLIDAY PETITION
Artwork by Otto Sturcke
Artwork and article reprinted with permission from the Valley Democrats United newsletter, Margie Murray, Editor