The Life and Role of Cesar Chavez

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Cesar Chavez was a Mexican-American activist who helped numerous people, both immigrants, and natural citizens. Chavez saw the value in all human life no matter how small the job that life did. He knew that all jobs no matter how small supported the rest of the economy and the country.

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He knew the mistreatment of the people in the lower class first hand, and he fought to make it right. Chavez fought his fight for the basic human rights of his people. His tactics were peaceful, he believed in nonviolence; he fought using civil disobedience. Sit-ins, rallies, marches, and hunger strikes were his methods of achieving his goals. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez worked alongside Dolores Huerta to achieve his goals. (AFL-CIO)

Cesar Chavez was born on the thirty-first of March in 1927 in North Gila Valley, Arizona to Libardo Chavez and Juana Estrada Chavez. His father, Libarado, was a small businessman and his mother, Juana, was the owner and operator of a grocery store, a garage, and a pool house in the small town where Cesar grew up. Chavez grew up in the same small adobe home where he was born, and it was the same home the large family all shared. Chavez grew up a Catholic thanks to his devout mother, and he shared this faith with his four siblings. His family was not rich, but compared to some of the other families in the town where he grew up, he was much more well-off, because his family had a deal with a local landowner, which allowed the Chavez family to work the same land year after year. However, the Chavez family was evicted from the land they had been working for almost fifty years, and the trials and serious hardships that inspired Cesar Chavez to make a change began. (aflcio.org, paragraphs 1-4)

The family moved to California near the Californian-Mexican border seeking jobs. There his parents joined the massive and growing fleet of migrant farm workers, where often he and his siblings would have to work picking crops in the fields with their parents to make ends meet. The family often had to sleep in a car and work long hours to have enough food to eat. Cesar dropped out of school after finishing the eighth grade and attending a total of thirty-six schools. (aflcio.org, paragraph 4) In hopes of bettering himself, Chavez lied about his age to gain admittance to the navy. He served for two years, then he was honorably discharged. A few years later, in 1948, he married his longtime love, Helen Fabela. In 1952, Chavez began to work for CSO (Community Service Organization) a civil rights group that represented Latinos. One day, a leader of CSO in Santa Clara County, California, introduced Chavez to Fred Ross the man who would open the doors to the rest of Chavez’s future. (aflcio.org, paragraph 5)

Fred Ross was in charge of the CSO in Chavez’s area. He mentored Chavez in organizing for CSO. The Latino population of Santa Clara County was largely poor, lived in inhumane living conditions, many could not read, and very few had access to health care because they were unable to afford it. The CSO helped the Latinos of Santa Clara County overcome these obstacles. They assisted in any way that they could, however since the majority of the people that the CSO served were migrant farm workers and also Latino they suffered manipulation by the farm owners that they worked for. Chavez had not only experienced this extortion, but he now had a platform to bring this extortion to light, so that is exactly what he did. Chavez’s first movement, called the Plan of Delano, was a strike against grape farmers. Grapes are one of the largest crops that California produces. However, the people that work in the vineyards are not always, and during the fifties and sixties, rarely treated with dignity according to the AFL-CIO. The Church teaches that there is dignity in all work and that all people should be treated and paid fairly for their work. “Work is more than just a job; it is a reflection of our human dignity and a way to contribute to the common good. Blessed John Paul II called work ‘probably the essential key to the whole social question’ (Laborem Exercens, No. 15).

Wages earned from work are the primary way people meet their material needs and contribute to the common good.”, says the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in “Just Wage and the Federal Minimum Wage” written in February 2014 (page 2, paragraph 4). Chavez worked tirelessly to organize this strike, he wrote letters, organized rallies, and even went on a hunger strike to gain publicity for the strike. His strike asked simply for the right to unionize the industry. The unions could help the people within them to get health insurance, and education, and even things as simple as more fair hours. (Huelga! Tales of the Delano Revolution)

After his first successful strike, Chavez outlined his the ideals of his social movement. Firstly, he defined the movement as “social movement”, or workers seeking out their God-given rights. Secondly one of his goals was to gain the support of federal groups. He believed that legislators could have helped protect the rights of those who could not protect themselves. He cited these main concerns as the basis for his change: extremely low wages, forced migration, epidemic sickness, illiteracy, and subhuman living conditions. He blamed some of these on the extortion by the farm owners. Another thing he asked for was support from the Catholic Church. He noticed that the people he represented were predominantly Catholic. They even carried images of the Virgin of Guadalupe into the field to watch over them as they labored. (americanexperience.si.edu, paragraph 3-7) He agreed with Pope Leo XIII’s “Rerum Novarum” saying, “Everyone’s first duty is to protect the workers from the greed of speculators who use human beings as instruments to provide themselves with the money. It is neither just, nor humane to oppress men with work to the point where their minds become enfeebled and bodies are worn out.”(americanexperience.si.edu, paragraph 7)

In order to solve these problems, he called for the unionization of California’s farm workers. He knew that the strength of the people was not in their wealth or their great education. Their strength was in their numbers.

Chavez taught that nonviolence was the only way to make a real change. Even when the people for whom he was fighting grew weary of his passiveness, he persisted. He advocated for some of the most oppressed people in the United States. He fought for what he believed in. Even though Chavez passed away in 1993 (AFL-CIO, paragraph 13), he leaves the world a better place with his legacy. He opened the gateway for a more just society. A society that is based on the dignity of the human being. He helped announce to all people that there is value in lowly jobs. “Blessed are lowly, for they shall inherit the Earth.” (New International Bible, Matthew 5:5)

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