M81: Movement Hero César Chávez

March 31 is celebrated in a handful of states because it is César Chávez Day. He would have been 81 today. César Chávez Day is an observed holiday in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

This morning I watched Democracy Now on the computer and learned (re-learned?) about this profoundly beloved leader of Mexican farm workers from his companion and co-founder Dolores Huerta. Now as I write that last sentence I wonder how many of this nation's farm laborers are NOT Mexican.

Having spent yesterday afternoon digging in the soil, I heard about the farm labor movement with a heightened sense of awareness.

It is also the 40th anniversary today of the end of the grape boycott. I remember the boycott in 1968 as I found out about it after knowing I'd eaten grapes without any awareness. I stopped after heard about the UFW strike and César Chávez going on a 25 day fast of water only.
The United Farmworkers Union AFL-CIO (UFW) has a special place in the history of farm labor organizing. It is the only successful union ever established to defend the rights of those who grow and harvest the crops.

This PBS website answers my own question as I found that historically it was the Filipino farm workers who stared the grape boycott.

Everything changed on September 8, 1965. On that day another farmworker group, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), struck the Delano table grape growers. Most of AWOC’s members were Filipinos who had come to the U.S. during the 1930s.

One week later the NFWA voted to join the strike. Among the joint leadership were César Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla from NFWA, and Larry Itliong, Andy Imutan and Philip Veracruz from AWOC.

Today, in 2008 I am very frightened for the farm laborers. As unions are growing weaker and weaker in this corporatist country and as racial hatred gets stronger and stronger the situation is a tinderbox. César Chávez'said, “The first principle of non-violent action is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating.”

Using more of César Chávez' own words:

"¡Sí se puede!"

"If you're not frightened that you might fail, you'll never do the job. If you're frightened, you'll work like crazy."

Painting by Robert Shetterly

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