Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez Day, Dignity, Inspiration, Latino culture, Social Justice, UFW

A March Down Memory Lane

Cesar Chavez-1974
Cesar Chavez-1974

 

When I drove my car over the railroad tracks, my friend, Dani, said she had never been to La Colonia, the working class neighborhood of my birth and youth.

I felt my memories stir.

We drove pass decorated bakeries, ‘hole-in-the-wall’ restaurants, liquor stores, and the very old, concrete church. A blend of sweet and spicy aromas entered my car.

La Colonia, which literally means, “The Colony” or neighborhood, had and still has a negative connotation by many because of the crime-much of it perpetuated and unevenly reported by the media.

Police cars blocked off a few of the streets, so I went down the well traveled pot-holed alleyways to find parking.

“Those fences must be ten or twelve feet,” my friend, a retired teacher, remarked on the chain link fences surrounding an elementary school. “I’ve never seen them that high.”

We left my mom off so she could join the people on the fire truck. In her eighties now, she didn’t have to walk the 4.5 miles to mid-town.

I felt proud of my mother. She always “walked the talk.”

Dani and I walked a few streets to join the well organized crowd of 1,000 people for the commemorative march for Cesar Chavez day. (A holiday in only 11 states). I smiled to see so many people on an early Sunday morning.

Around me were monitors for crowd control. While Dani and I waited for the march to begin I stepped outside the double yellow street line to snap a photo. One of the monitors waved at me to get back in line-just doing her job and a good one at that.

Cesar Chavez March-Oxnard, CA-alvaradofrazier.com
Cesar Chavez March-Oxnard, CA-alvaradofrazier.com

The signal was given to begin. Women with strollers, a Brownie and Daisy troop, a Congresswoman, and people of all ages holding UFW flags or wearing T-shirts depicting Cesar Chavez or Dolores Huerta began to move forward.

 

While we walked, I pointed out the housing project. “It looks so modern now, like condo’s, not at all how they looked when I lived there,” I said. Back in the 60’s/70’s the ‘projects,’ were flat topped, square looking buildings painted army green and dingy yellowed cream.

 

The roofs and overhang section had hundreds of rocks, which were used for many a rock fight. I noticed that the old telephone poles still abounded, their low hanging electrical lines a hazard.

 

At the corner, the church where I had my eight grade graduation and my first marriage, stood with a big banner across it, “Mariachi Mass for Mother’s Day.” Behind that church was the Catholic grammar school, where my sisters, brother, and cousins attended first to eighth grade.

 

“Hey, wait, are some of these places in your story?” Dani had read one of my manuscripts.

“Yep, my neighborhood is the setting,” I said with some nostalgia.

 

Soon we passed small houses, many filled with flowers and fruit trees, squeezed into miniscule front yards. Several women and children leaned on their fences and watched us walk by, a moving wave of red flags, banners, and colorful tee-shirts.

 

An elderly man in a walker stood on his porch. With one hand, he gripped his walker, in the other he held up his red with black eagle flag.

 

The red line moved forward as a slow wave of water. Chants of “Si Se Puede,” “Viva Cesar,” and “Justice,” rang out around us. I felt my heart stir.

 

Cesar Chavez March-Over the Bridge-Oxnard, CA-alvaradofrazier.com
Cesar Chavez March-Over the Bridge-Oxnard, CA-alvaradofrazier.com

The march slowed to a stop as we made the turn to the bridge. “I remember when we didn’t have a bridge,” I said. “We took the city bus to school. If the train was stuck on the tracks, which happened half the time, their was no way out of Colonia.

The group of us would be late for school. When I went into the office for a late note, someone would inevitably say, ‘must be a Colonia kid.’

Over the bridge we flowed, 1,000 of us, to the plaza park area. My march down memory lane was over but it’s never forgotten.

Cesar Chavez Day March-Oxnard, CA-alvaradofrazier.com
Cesar Chavez Day March-Oxnard, CA-alvaradofrazier.com

 

After the march ended and the Aztec Dancers finished with a ceremonial dance, we entered the movie theater to watch a movie on Cesar Chavez.

The film was very well done, with historical facts blended with personal, family dynamics.

I have to say that Michael Peña and America Ferrera did a much better job than I thought they would, based on their other movies. I wished Rosario Dawson, as Dolores Huerta, was given a meatier role as Dolores Huerta deserved.

This movie is one that everyone should see to further their knowledge of social justice, non-violent activism, and history.

Happy Birthday, Cesar, and may future generations come to recognize your non-violent work for social justice, worker’s rights and equality.

Authors, Book Review, Books, Boycotts, Cesar Chavez, Family, Latinos in film, Uncategorized

América and Anthony Quinn

America's Dream

Ever since I figured out how to use the Goodreads widget I’ve been posting reviews on books I’ve read.

Either the widget is dead, malfunctioning or my brain is on overdrive and I’ve forgotten how to use the darn thing, but the widget is not working. Hence, here are reviews on the two latest books I’ve enjoyed in the last month.

América by Esmeralda Santiago

América Gonzalez is a hotel maid at an island resort off the coast of Puerto Rico. She cleans up after wealthy foreigners who look past her as a non-entity. Her married boyfriend, Correa, beats her and their fourteen-year-old daughter thinks life would be better anywhere but with América. When a wealthy, too busy, family asks her to work for them in the United States, América plans her escape from Correa and her old life.

Domestic violence, family dynamics, fear, and choices are themes in this novel. The ongoing violence that América endures is sometimes difficult to read. One feels like yelling at her to drop the bastard and make better decisions, however the author illustrates that this is no easy task. 

Reading about a character who makes poor choices can often be a turn-off, however the author engages the reader by describing the protagonist and her backstory effectively.

Beautiful descriptive prose keeps you reading but the redundant descriptions on setting is sometimes too much and the eye wants to scan for the forward movement in the story.

I love the dialogue, the emotional reactions, and interplay between the maids. I loved how the author gave us the dialogue between the mother and protagonist. The villain in the story was well played.I learned some things about Puerto Rico, the culture and language which is a plus in my opinion.

I didn’t like the way the daughter’s character was written. She had the same extremes of reaction over the entire book.

These glitches may be because this is the author’s first novel (1996). I would definitely read Esmeralda Santiago’s other books.

one man tango

One Man Tango by Anthony Quinn and Daniel Paisner

Description from publisher:

“While bicycling near his villa in Ceccina, Italy, veteran actor Anthony Quinn begins a remarkable journey of self-discovery through a varied and colorful past–and delivers one of the most fascinating star biographies ever written. Resonating with Quinn’s own passionate voice, an infectious zest for living, and a wealth of juicy anecdotes, One Man Tango is by turns resilient and caustic, daring and profound. It is a memoir as bold as the man who wrote it. Includes a 16-page photo insert. HC: HarperCollins.”

Anthony Quinn was a hero of many Latino’s, being that he was a well known actor in the ’40-’70’s when few Latinos were on the big screen. Not only did he come from Mexico, but he grew up in East Los Angeles. He was associated with the Kennedy’s, Catholics, Cesar Chavez, laborers, and California politics which further endeared him to the Mexican American community.

I couldn’t help loving this book.When I read the memoir it was as if Anthony Quinn himself was in my family room recounting his memories. He lived as passionately as his many love affairs.

Remember Zorba the Greek? Well, Anthony Quinn had that enthusiasm for living. His early life was one of extreme poverty in Mexico, with his Mexican Irish father who fought in the Mexican Revolution, and his Mexican Indian mother. 

The memoir is as fast paced as his bicycle ride through the hills of Ceccina, giving the reader an insight into the hills and valleys of the actor’s life, which is fascinating. Besides being an actor he was a laborer, boxer, artist, vintner, writer and philanthropist.

His memory of the movie stars, producers, and directors that he worked with is fascinating, juicy and very entertaining. He worked with Marlon Brando, Laurence Olivier, Mickey Rooney, Carole Lombard, Maureen O’Hara, Rita Hayworth, and numerous other memorable actors. His memoir reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood and the world, with all the side dishes that go along with these characters.

Particularly interesting was his experiences and conflicts with mobsters, politicians, and movie moguls, including his father-in-law, Cecil B. De Mille. Their family dynamics were extremely interesting.

Anthony Quinn often reminisces about his poor choices, the emotional turmoil he put his wife and family through, and looking back it seems he regrets some of his decisions. But what also comes through the memoir is that he loved his family like a ferocious lion.

This memoir is one of the most well-written, insightful, and candid story I’ve ever read. There are many beautifully written phrases and visuals that make you feel you are on that bicycle ride through the towns and cities of Mexico, East Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Italy.

as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando's Emilian...
as Eufemio Zapata with Marlon Brando’s Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! (1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Cesar Chavez, Cesar Chavez Day, Hilda Solis, Martyrs of UFW, Social Justice, Strong Women, UFW

How Cesar Chavez and UFW Martyrs Impacted Social Justice

March 31st is a State Holiday in California and optional in Colorado and Texas. It is a holiday that honors Cesar Chavez, a great social justice leader and establishes this day as one that promotes service to the community. Earlier I wrote about the connection of Cesar Chavez and the UFW to our family.

On Monday, March 26, 2012 Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, hosted the Induction of the Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement into the Labor Hall of Honor and the naming of the César E. Chávez Memorial Auditorium in Washington, D.C. Michael Peña, actor and star of the upcoming film “Chávez,” served as the event’s master of ceremonies.

The Induction of the Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement publicly recognized and honored collective, broad-based action in the area of social and worker justice. This year the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) will celebrate its 50th Anniversary.

The strength of their collective action led to such accomplishments 
  • The abolishment of the short handled hoe that crippled generations of farm workers.
  • Unemployment, disability and workers’ compensation benefits for farm workers;
  •  Establishment of labor contracts with employers that require rest periods,
  •  Toilets in the fields,
  •  Clean drinking water, hand washing facilities,
  •  Protective clothing against pesticide exposure,
  •  Banning pesticide spraying while workers are in the fields
  •  Outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides,
  •  Eliminating farm labor contractors and guaranteeing farm workers seniority rights and job security
  •  Creation of a pension plan for retired farm workers, a credit union
  •  and comprehensive union health benefits for farm workers and their families.

History about UFW Martyrs Inducted into Labor Hall of Fame:
Nan Freeman: an 18-year old college freshman from Wakefield, Massachusetts who gave her life while picketing with striking farm workers in central Florida in the middle of the night because of her love for justice. In Cesar’s words, Nan was Kadosha in the Hebrew tradition, a “holy person” to be forever honored.
Rufino Contreras: a 27 year old husband, father of two and a dedicated union activist who was shot to death in the Imperial Valley lettuce field for demanding a more just share of what he himself produced during the 1979 vegetable industry strike
Nagi Daifallah: a young Muslim immigrant from South Yemen who was killed during the 1973 grape strike after he gave himself completely to the union to escape the trap of powerlessness. Nagi immigrated to this country to escape poverty, only to rediscover it in California’s rich fields and vineyards. He learned English, could communicate well, served as a translator for UFW organizers and became active with the union.
Juan De La Cruz: a 60-year old immigrant from Mexico, a gentle man who knew firsthand the benefits of a UFW contract. He was also a grape striker and an original union member recruited by Cesar in the early ‘60s. Juan died two days after Nagi’s killing when shots rang out on a vineyard picket line and Juan shielded his wife, Maximina, with his body.
Rene Lopez was only 21 when he came home and proudly told his mother, “Here is my first union card. Now I am important. Now I am a man.” A short time later, grower goons gunned Rene down just after he voted in a union election at Sikkema Dairy near Fresno, which he and his co-workers were striking. Rene was young, but, as Cesar observed, “he had already felt the call to social justice.”
In case you haven’t read the official proclamation:
                             BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
                                                                  A PROCLAMATION
One of our Nation’s great civil rights leaders, Cesar Estrada Chavez came of age as a migrant farm worker, witnessing the injustice that pervaded fields and vineyards across California. Facing discrimination, poverty, and dangerous working conditions, laborers toiled for little pay and without access to even the most basic necessities. Yet amidst hardship and abuse, Cesar Chavez saw the promise of change — the unlimited potential of a community organized around a common purpose. 
Today, we celebrate his courage, reflect on his lifetime of advocacy, and recognize the power in each of us to lift up lives and pursue social justice.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other visionary leaders, Cesar Chavez based his campaign on principles of nonviolence, which he called “the quality of the heart.” Through boycotts, fasts, strikes, and marches that demanded both endurance and imagination, he drew thousands together in support of “La Causa” — a mission to ensure respect, dignity, and fair treatment for farm workers. Alongside Dolores Huerta, he founded the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), an organization tasked with defending and empowering the men and women who feed the world.
As a tribute to Cesar Chavez’s life and work, my Administration designated the Forty Acres site in Delano, California, as a National Historical Landmark last year, forever commemorating the birthplace of the UFW. In May 2011, the United States Navy named the USNS Cesar Chavez in recognition of his service during World War II. And this month, we honor ten Americans as Champions of Change for their commitment to realizing Cesar Chavez’s dream of a more just tomorrow. Decades after his struggle began, Cesar Chavez’s legacy lives on in all who draw inspiration from the values of service, determination, and community that ignited his movement.
On the 85th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birth, we are reminded of what we can accomplish when we recognize our common humanity. He told us, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” As we honor his broad ambitions and expansive vision, let us pledge to stand forever on the side of equal opportunity and justice for all.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2012, as Cesar Chavez Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twenty-third day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.
BARACK OBAMA

You don’t have to be a Californian to commemorate the spirit of this holiday. As an individual how can you be of service to your community this weekend? How can your actions uplift someone else, create a better environment, or make a difference?

Wishing you creative thoughts, blessings, and peace.

Cesar Chavez, Cesar's Last Fast, Wisdom

Cesar’s Last Fast-Part II

The Kickstarter campaign to raise money to complete the documentary “Cesar’s Last Fast,” began on September 25, 2011. Last week’s article discussed some of the reasons why filmmaker Richard Perez decided to make the film. This article explains why the film is important and how you, the community, can help complete the film and carry it to small and large screens everywhere.

People who grew up in the 60’s-80’s remember the boycotts, chants of huelga and numerous discussions about social justice. My mother and I participated in boycotts and she attended César’s funeral because “…he was a great man, like a good friend…”


But do our children know of this time in history. Do they know the reasons for the boycotts, UFW, or the man behind an historic social cause? Will they ever feel the stir of César’s words, the emotion behind the 36-day fast, the marches, the huelga flag? Give them the opportunity to see this film, because after they see it they will not only know the reasons, they will feel the emotion and understand the need to continue advocating for social justice.

The film opens with original footage of Chavez’s funeral. It continues with his organizing efforts in 1965 when he and his supporters stood on dirt roads encouraging fieldworkers to join their cause and the actions of those who opposed him and assaulted UFW supporters. The lump in my throat grew as I watched the human drama unfold and heard the speeches Chavez gave to his supporters while in the midst of difficulties. The scenes are poignant and stirring, not only for what is actually occurring on screen and what took place in real life, but because of the universal resonance of justice, integrity, and a man’s belief in “…one dream, one goal, one vision…”

In my interview with the director, Mr. Perez, it is evident that “Cesar’s Last Stand” is more than just a film. His mission is to utilize the documentary as a powerful tool to engage people and organizations to participate in social justice movements using Cesar Chavez’s inspiring story as a model for how individuals and communities can address the inequities they confront every day.

The website explains this further, “To carry out this social impact initiative, the filmmakers will partner with national civil, labor, human rights, and faith-based organizations. These partner groups will organize community-based screening. This strategy will ensure the film reaches a new generation of immigrant workers who may not know Chavez’s story and his impact on Latino civil and labor rights in the United States.”

All of the money raised from this campaign is for the completion of the production of Cesar’s Last Fast. This project will only be funded if at least $21,000 is pledged by November 24, 2011. The filmmakers will travel to California’s Central Valley to interview farm workers in the fields and in their homes and capture the conditions under which they work and live. The target date to complete the film is early Spring, 2012.

After that, a series of community-based screenings are scheduled to reach the audience who most needs to see this film: today’s generation of farmworkers, workers in other low-wage industries, and young people who came of age after the historic rise of the farmworker movement and Cesar Chavez’s passing.

Support levels range from $1 to $1,000. Recognition ranges from acknowledgement on Facebook to receipt of a special edition DVD all the way up to on-screen Associate Producer credits.
Taking part in a social justice campaign is only a click and a few dollars away.