COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Though he passed on to the spirit world in 1993, the heart of farm-labor 
organizer Cesar Chavez still beats gently across the continent's rich and 
verdant valleys. Countless streets, schools and community centers nationwide 
now bear his name. He, along with his wife, Helen, and Dolores Huerta, 
founded the United Farm Worker's union in 1962 and later joined Filipino farm 
workers in their historic grape strike in 1965.
Third-grade student Lucy Garcia, of Cesar Chavez Science Magnet school in 
Bakersfield -- where California is now observing his birthday as a legal 
holiday -- knows of him in this way: "He wanted to make a law that said that 
when you do something for people, you should get paid." Yes. That's what he 
fought for.
Chavez has often been compared to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. 
Perhaps he should also be compared with the late Emma Tenayuca, a labor giant 
from San Antonio. 
One way of honoring Chavez's memory is by remembering the man, not the myth. 
He was a peaceful warrior, but a human being, not a saint. What he should be 
remembered most for is reconnecting consumers worldwide to the earth and to 
the workers who put food on our table, and for his philosophy of selflessness 
and peace. Chavez said: "I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the 
strongest act of humanity is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally 
nonviolent struggle for justice. ... To be human means to suffer for others. 
God help us to be human." It wasn't just the union's leadership that was 
selfless but all those involved with "La Causa."
Teachers should explain to students that being human means having faults like 
everyone else. Because of the UFW's work ("organizing the unorganizable"), 
the union was always under siege. But not all of the union's conflicts were 
external. At one point, some of the actions of the UFW caused a division 
within the Chicano political movement, regarding the business practice of 
using undocumented workers as strike breakers. The UFW denounced this 
practice. Leaders of the Chicano movement interpreted this as inadvertently 
aiding the anti-immigrant movement.
Those were difficult times, but peace came as the result of mediation efforts 
by another recently deceased human-rights leader, Bert Corona. The union was 
resilient as Chavez and Huerta emerged and proved to be the most enduring 
human-rights champions of the post-1960s era. Today, the UFW (now joined by 
virtually all U.S. unions) continues to organize migrant and immigrant 
workers alike, regardless of race, nationality or citizenship. 
Picketing and "The Boycott" are synonymous with Chavez, Huerta and the union. 
Every picket was an honoring. It taught many of us to see dignity in all work 
and all workers. Yet the UFW wasn't concerned only with labor; it was talking 
about environmental racism long before the term was coined. The struggle 
against pesticide poisoning, or "poisoned grapes" as young Lucy describes 
them, was No. 1 on the UFW agenda.
Chavez was an astute intellectual with the mind of a general. He died 
prematurely. Yet if he could, he would have traded in all of his posthumous 
honors if the American public would today honor farm workers as full human 
beings -- by paying them livable wages and guaranteeing them the security, 
full benefits and protections afforded all other workers. 
One way to honor his memory is to read one of the many books that have since 
been published: "Remembering Cesar: The Legacy of Cesar Chavez," Ann 
McCreggor (Quill Driver Books 1-800-497-4909), "Fields of Courage," Susan 
Drake (Many Names Press), and "Elegy on the Death of Cesar Chavez," Rudy 
Anaya (Cinco Puntos Press). Another way is to learn about the continued UFW 
organizing struggles in the Southwest and of the other great farm-labor 
organizing struggles for dignity taking place in the Northwest, Midwest and 
Southeast, on the East Coast and in Canada. 
One enigma that hasn't been given much attention: his last words. Before 
retiring for the night, he had read a book on Native Americans. He said 
something to the effect that "we have to start working with our relatives, 
the American Indians." Perhaps unknown to most people, the campesinos (most 
with roots in Mexico and Central America) are indigenous. They, like Chavez, 
are the color of the earth. No doubt, one day, he will also be honored as a 
great indigenous leader throughout the continent. 
* To learn more about the UFW, visit:
* To learn more about the PCUN -- the farmworkers union of the Northwest, 
* Gonzales is the author of the forthcoming "The Mud People: Anonymous Heroes 
of Mexico" and co-author of "Gonzales/Rodriguez: Uncut & Uncensored" (ISBN: 
0-918520-22-3 -- Ethnic Studies Library Publications Unit, UC Berkeley. 
Rodriguez is the author of Justice: A Question of Race (Cloth- ISBN 
0-927534-69-X paper ISBN 0-927534-68-1 -- Bilingual Review Press). We can be 
reached at PO BOX 100726, San Antonio, TX 78201-8726, or by phone at 
210-734-3050 or Our "Column of the Americas" is archived 
under "Opinion" at 
* Also, the Aztlanahuac project's new e-address is: 
The other contact info for Aztlanahuac is the same as above.