“Many of us were afraid and many of us didn’t know what to do, but we were just waiting,” said Eliseo Medina, national labor union leader and immigrant rights advocate in an interview in the monumental PBS documentary Chicano!. “We were just waiting for somebody to throw the match and that’s what César did.”
Memories of a humble man still remain in our hearts. A man who dared to not only speak his mind, but to act on it. March 31st, marks what would have been Chávez’ ninetieth birthday. The Weekly Issue/El Semanario dedicates this issue to a man who generated a national and international movement for dignity and human rights of farmworkers.
“The fight is never about the grapes or lettuce…it’s about the people.”
Chávez’ short stature and soft-spoken, quiet demeanor was often mistaken for the stereotypical look of passivity rather than forceful leadership. Medina, a devoted supporter of the United Farm Workers (UFW), recalled the first big strike meeting in Delano, California on September 16, 1965. “People started talking about how unfair what the growers were doing and why we needed to fight back, and then this guy starts talking. I said, ‘Oh that must be César.’ And he was tall with a mustache, very distinguished looking. I was very impressed,” remembered Medina, who at the time was 19 years old. “And then he says ‘Now I would like to introduce you to César Chávez. And then, so César gets up and he’s this little guy…very soft spoken. I say, ‘That’s César?’ You know, I wasn’t very impressed…but the more he talked, the more I thought that not only could we fight, but we could win.” And they did.
Chávez instilled that courage and vision across the nation, and in 2002 committed individuals created the first official Denver celebration honoring César Chávez. In 2001, former Colorado State Rep.’s Frana Mace and Rob Hernández sponsored a bill to create a state holiday, and former Denver District 3 City Councilwoman Ramona Martínez initiated a City holiday recognizing Chávez and his accomplishments in the fields. The city of Denver officially honored the late leader on March 27th closing its municipal offices and facilities.
The César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver will host their 16th Annual César Chávez March and celebration on April 8th, beginning with an 8:30am mass at Regis University Chapel, 3333 Regis Blvd, and the Marcha begins at 9:45am with a procession to César Chávez Park, 4131 Tennyson, in northwest Denver for a community celebration.
In Albuquerque, New México the Recuerda a César Chávez Committee (RCCC) will celebrate Chávez with their 24th annual community March for Justice on Saturday April 1st. The RCCC is joining with Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation as they rename South Valley Gateway Park the “Dolores Huerta Gateway Park.” Dolores Huerta will be speak at the ceremony and the March for Justice will step off following the ceremony to the National Hispanic Cultural Center for the Fiesta featuring awards, food, music and poetry. This year’s RCCC will also host the 8th annual Dolores Huerta Day of Service on March 31st.
Efforts for a national holiday were originally established by Los Angeles, CA volunteers who organized and led the effort in California that won César Chávez Day, the first legal state holiday and day of service and learning in honor of farm worker leader César E. Chávez in 2000. The California legal holiday set into motion a wave of initiatives resulting in optional and commemorative César Chávez Days in additional states.
For decades, Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) fought various difficult battles against many growers and even the Teamsters. Striking across the country was an everyday occurrence, which parallels current struggles now in fields from California to Florida.
Since the death of Chávez in 1993, the need continues more than ever for the plight of farmworkers across our nation. Chávez always said, “The fight is never about the grapes or lettuce…it’s about the people.”