The upcoming Cesar E. Chavez March on the 25 reminds us of the celebration of the legacy of the civil rights activist, who with Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association later known as the United Farm Workers Union.
A Mexican-American, Chavez became the best known Latino American civil rights activist in our lifetime–with the help of the labor movement that supported his nonviolent tactics. Those tactics helped the farm workers’ struggle become a moral cause with national support.
In more than one past column, I have written about his long-time friend and local activist Jaime Martinez. Martinez was able to convince the San Antonio City Council a few years ago to rename Durango Boulevard to Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard. I have even walked a picket line at a local grocery with Martinez on Military Drive on the South Side – that is a story for another time.
Chavez’s famous expression, “Si Se Puede,” has become synonymous with the struggle of all minimum wage workers to receive better working conditions as well as better wages. Former President Barack Obama used the translated version of “Si Se Puede” for his presidency: “Yes I can.”
Chavez’s birthday on March 31 is officially a Texas State Holiday.
Numerous immigrants over the years have crossed the border from Mexico and Central American countries with the ultimate dream of obtaining full citizenship. Many of them have tirelessly worked the fields as a way to obtain a better life in America and Texas in particular. Chavez gave them a voice. Currently that voice is being put into harm’s way by the current White House administration.
Chavez is especially relevant now with the national debate raging among certain political factions fighting to deport undocumented workers while others are fighting diligently to assist Dreamers in gaining official status in the United States. Many of them are the workers who toil in the fields to feed their children and make a better life are Dreamers.
To this day, I am in awe that it was my fortune to interview the man we celebrate today. I vividly recall questioning him on his mission to protect the farm workers while I was a reporter for KENS-5 Eyewitness News in 1982.
He spoke about the discrimination against field workers, undocumented or American citizens, who were forced into the hot sun for long hours of back breaking work and low compensation.
Ironically, many low wage earners in other jobs today are facing some of the same discrimination and inadequate pay as the farm workers before them. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Ironically, we see it happening today.
As one who will march for 21 consecutive years in San Antonio in honor of the late Cesar E. Chavez, I am proud to say I not only met him face to face, but personally heard his story one on one of his representation of farm workers. He died in 1993.
At this time every year, I take a moment to reflect my personal encounter with Chavez. I enjoy remembering his striking, soft-spoken voice and his articulate calm countenance. He still reminds me of another activist for civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi.
In the past few years, we have seen Paul Chavez, his son, along with activist Dolores Huerta, his granddaughter Christina and son-in law Arturo Rodriguez serve as grand marshal or featured speaker in the annual march.
Celebrate March 31 by remembering the contributions of Cesar E. Chavez to the struggle. See you at the March on the 25 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. To Cesar E. Chavez I say, “Si Se Puede.”
And as always, what I write is “Just a Thought.”
Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Justice of the Peace and Journalist.