The upcoming Cesar E. Chavez March 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 with the help of the labor movement who supported his nonviolent tactics. Those tactics helped the farm workers’ struggle become a moral cause with national support.
His famous expression, “Si Se Puede,” has become synonymous with the struggle of all minimum wage workers to receive better working conditions as well as the better wages. On the national level during the current presidential campaign, minimum wage is once again a hot topic for both political parties.
His birthday March 31st is a Texas State Holiday and in San Antonio Durango Boulevard was re-named Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard a few years ago. It took many years of the Latino population lobbying for the name change along with local Icon Jaime Martinez who still heads up the annual march to this day. Jaime was a longtime compadre of Cesar Chavez in the fight for equality for migrant workers.
For many immigrants over the years who have crossed the border from Mexico with the ultimate dream of obtaining full citizenship, many of them have worked the fields to obtain a better life in America and Texas in particular.
As one who has marched for 19 consecutive years in San Antonio, March 26th will be my 20th year to honor the late Cesar E. Chavez who died in 1993. What better way to honor him than by marching down Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard from Avenida Guadalupe to the Alamo, along with thousands of other marchers? Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales will serve as Grand Marshal.
When I met him as a reporter for KENS 5 in 1982, I sat down with him for over twenty minutes and interviewed him. Two years ago at this time I wrote a column on that interview on his striking soft spoken, articulate calm demeanor. In that column I equated him to another activist for civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi.
To this day I am in awe that it was my fortune to do the interview over senior reporters. I recall the assignments editor asked the pool of reporters who wanted to cover the story and I had enough sense to raise my hand first. I vividly recall questioning Cesar Chavez on his mission to protect the farm workers.
He spoke about the discrimination against field workers, forced into the hot sun for long hours of grueling work and low compensation.
As one who taught in Southside ISD in the late 70s, many of my students were the children of migrant workers who toiled in the fields in and around San Antonio. I was acutely aware of what he was saying in the interview.
Ironically I had my own personal experience of working in the fields when I travelled to Israel in 1972 and worked on a kibbutz for only a week. It gave me a small taste of what it was like to work in the fields as I picked apples and tomatoes.
For anybody who has ever worked a field picking commodities, it is back breaking work. Anyone who tells you it is not extremely uncomfortable bending over for eight or more hours a day picking whatever in a field, is not telling you the truth. When I shared my story with Mr. Chavez he smiled and said, “Welcome to my world!”
This year on his birthday March 31st there will be a Cesar E. Chavez tribute to Veterans at Fort Sam Houston at the Assembly area. Chavez served in the Navy for four years during WWII. As a Viet Nam Veteran, I am honored to be the keynote speaker at that tribute to veterans and Cesar Chavez along with other speakers.
Join us in the March (26th) and the Tribute to Veterans. (31st) Come celebrate the contributions of Cesar E. Chavez to the struggle for worker’s rights. “Si Se Puede.”
Anyway, as always, what I write is “Just a Thought.”
Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Justice of the Peace and Journalist.