By Armando García
Editor and Founder of Nuestra América Magazine
This March 31 marks the 93rd birthday of the Chicano farmworker leader, Cesar Chávez. For Latinos in general living in the US and to Mexicans or their descendants, Chávez is their leader, their person, who although he is no longer with us, his legacy and his cause are still alive in all those fighting for social justice.
All peoples have had a leader who has fought for justice for the needed, the outcasts, the hopeless, who with their sweat and work build the wealth of societies in which they lived . In this case, Chávez fought for the humblest, discriminated, humiliated and exploited people in the USA.
Some of those caudillos, few achieved their goal, others were blinded or silenced at the beginning or in the middle of the road and many eagerly raised the flag of their struggle and have moved on.
German playwright Bertolt Brecht said: “There are men who fight one day and are good. There are others that fight for a year and are better. Some fight for many years and are very good. But there are those who fight all their lives, those are essential. " César is one of those essential men.
In April of this year, people in America remember him because of his 26 years of passing, the story of César Chávez continues to be told in many corners of the country, and in others have tried to erase it from history books. However, on these days, demonstrations are taking place throughout the country honoring his name and raising the flag of struggle to achieve immigration reform and therefore an end to xenophobia that attacks minorities in this nation.
César, in present times, is our leader in the United States, mainly for the farmworkers. He achieved what many failed for a long time, to form a union, a movement that set the example of the style of struggle necessary in this country to achieve labor conquests, worthy for human being.
For those of us who were fortunate enough to work closely with him, in my case as administrative editor and media spokesperson for his union, Cesar showed us the nonviolent path of the fight for social justice. Something difficult to conceive by many so-called revolutionaries that their goal is to overthrow the governments, the oligarchy, the bourgeoisie in power by violent means.
César managed to make big agricultural companies bow to the pressure of the boycott of agricultural products, an economic, infallible weapon that directly affected the wealth of the powerful, the untouchable one, of those influential in all aspects of our society.
César managed to open the society’s eyes to recognize that the food that one takes to the mouth every day, was harvested by someone who does not have enough to eat and less to support his family. American society learned of the misery, despair, and anguish of the farmworkers through the boycott, through the fasts and personal sacrifices that César made in his life to raise awareness of the precarious situation of the farmworkers. Americans for many years saw thousands of farmworkers, students, labor leaders, community people come to the big cities to ask consumers not to buy grapes or lettuce, because they were stained with exploitation, marginalization and humiliation.
César said that the suffering of the farmworkers is priceless, but he managed to make the growers make whole farmworkers to compensate them for their suffering by improving working conditions, wages, benefits and social benefits.
The farmworker movement, which he started, sowed the seeds of the current achievements of Mexicans, Latinos, Hispanics in all areas of American society.
Without his teachings and example, it would have been almost impossible for the immigrant population, Hispanic Americans, to become aware of the moment they had to live and to know which way to go to be recognized in a hostile and discriminatory society towards them.
Cesar said in 1984 that many Chicanos, Latinos, Hispanics, in prominent positions in society, in one way or another were connected to the farmworker struggle that he started. Either they have not bought boycotted or sanctioned grapes or lettuce, or they have participated in a demonstration or picket lines in stores or supermarkets.
Cesar is no longer physically with us. His slogan of Si Se Puede!, Yes You Can! I can be Done! It still is heard from the furrows of the countryside to the cities, a to all over the world. Even President Obama used it extensively in his first electoral campaign. Obama declared Keene, California, where Cesar is buried a National Park.
His struggle must not be forgotten, it must be known in all corners of the country and the fight must continue, since the farmworker that César organized, the majority are no longer with us. New generations of young labor immigrants come from Latin America and other parts of the world to work in the USA fields, factories, cities.
Some will harvest César's conquests, others will be exploited and humiliated by their bosses and discriminated against by the society that has always been hostile to them.
But his teachings of what to do, and the know-how, are already written, you just must put them into practice. You no longer must reinvent the wheel of history; you just must take the helm and move on without backing down.
The struggles for immigration reform, for labor reforms, can be won without violence. Let us follow the example of César Chávez and all those who following his legacy.
Armando García is the Editor and Founder of Nuestra América Magazine. He worked closely with César Chávez as administrative editor of the United Farm Workers Union publications, including as director of the grape boycott in the Pacific Northwest and West Canada.