Latino Learning Center, Houston, Texas

By: Arturo V. Ramirez 

April 1, 2000

Muchas gracias. Antes que todo, un brindis (saludo) al cumple anos de Cesar Chavez.  First and foremost, a toast (salute) to the birthday of Cesar Chavez.  Yesterday, March 31st, was Cesar Chavez' birthday.  He would have been 73 years old.  We should not only remember March 31st as the day Selena died, but just as importantly -- if not more --- we should remember it as the day Cesar Chavez was born.

Thank you for inviting me to the Cesar Chavez parade and street naming celebration. I want to first extend my congratulations to Benny Martinez and all the members, supporters and volunteers of the Tejano Association for Historical Preservation for their tireless efforts and dedication to this project and the excellent preparations for today's festivities that made this long overdue tribute to Cesar Chavez a resounding success.

I am honored to have been selected as one --- out of the so many you could have chosen -- to say a few words on this historic occasion. I stand humbly before you as just one common person - out of millions --- who was profoundly and eternally touched by Cesar Chavez, and who was forever changed and influenced by his mighty spirit --- so deeply influenced that to this day I still boycott grapes!

What can I say about Cesar Chavez that has not already been said about him - especially by people with higher rank than I have - and-perhaps with a lot more eloquence than I could deliver.  All I can do is share with you what you already know - or should know - of his incomparable legacy, his lasting achievements and his bold vision - through the prism of my own experiences in life and my perceptions of what Cesar Chavez represents to us.

As an organizer of "la raza," nosotros, la pleve, los de abajo, el pueblo hispano, in this country, Cesar Chavez has no equal.

As a man of commitment to la causa, Chavez has no equal.  As a man of sacrifice, a man of absolute unselfishness, Chavez has no equal.

As a Hispanic / Latino leader in this country, Chavez has no equal.

Let it be written that Cesar Chavez was the greatest Hispanic / Latino leader - without exception - this country has ever had.

Let it be known, let it be etched in stone that Cesar Chavez is unequivocally among the greatest "American" leaders of the 20th century.

We look up to him as a hero. Yet he never sought to be one, or saw himself as a hero. A soldier, a warrior, in both war and civil strife, yes, but not a hero. "We" see him as a hero because we respect the unparalleled valor we witnessed in the actions he undertook, the marches he led, and the fasting he endured, all for the victory in the struggle for social justice. Yet, he saw himself as a humble person, no better than his fellow man, and doing nothing more than what any one of us could do. While this may be the plain truth, it is not the reality. What made him special and above the rest of us was his courage. He had more "ganas" and courage than all of us put together. Cesar Chavez is uniquely an American paradox.

He had immense knowledge and wisdom - yet quit school after the eight grade to become a migrant farmer worker and help his family.

His life was incredibly valuable; his worth was beyond any economic measure - yet during his lifetime he never earned more that $ 5,000 a year.

He took an act of weakness -- fasting -- and turned it into his strongest weapon to achieve national recognition and support for the struggle and victory for the farm workers.

He redefined the word "macho". While mostly everyone had a negative view of being "macho", and stereotyped Latino males as being "male chauvinists," Cesar put it in a positive context. He was once asked by a reporter what being "macho" meant to him. He answered, " to be a man is to suffer for others."  It sounds better in Spanish, "ser macho es saber sufrir por otros."

Esto, mis hermanos y hermanas, I believe, was Cesar’s greatest gift - and the legacy he left us. He knew how to give of himself to others -- and he did it unconditionally every day. He was a man who suffered for others who were in greater need to us that makes him a hero.  To him it was just being human. I would like to close with a prayer Cesar Chavez wrote, and leave you with his actual voice as he tells us, "si se puede", and hope that not only will we celebrate his birthday every year, but also, in his honor, continue the struggle every day!  Hasta la victoria!

Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I may know my people's plight. Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person. Help me to take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last. Grant me courage to serve others, for in service there is true life. Give me honesty and patience, so that I can work with other workers. Bring forth song and celebration, so that the Spirit will be alive among us. Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life. Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world. [The United Farm Workers’ Prayer]


Que viva Cesar Chavez !