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.

Chingonas, Strong Women, UFW, Wisdom

Why Dolores Huerta is Important to Remember

 

Dolores Huerta-Ventura College, CA-alvaradofrazier.com
Dolores Huerta-Ventura College, CA-alvaradofrazier.com

 

The newspaper said that Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) was to speak at a local community college.

My mom immediately said, “I’ve never seen her up close or heard her speak. I want to go.”

Now, I was a little surprised since my mother marched four times with Cesar Chavez with the fifth time being his funeral procession to his resting place in Keene, CA.

That evening we arrived early so we could sit up front. The college students, who sponsored the presentation, made Champurrado, Arroz con Leche, enchiladas, rice, and a whole array of foods. One thing about Latinos, we do like to eat and we put out food for guests.

At the appointed time of the presentation there were no seats left with at least fifty people standing.

Dolores Huerta, a petite woman with a strong voice, took the stand.

She spoke about the hardship of the early days (1940-60’s) of farm labor work. No bathroom facilities, one water jug with one shared cup for everyone, the short handled hoe, no rest periods, and pesticide spraying over farmworkers in the fields.

My mom made the migrant circuit to pick crops with her parents. She nodded her head at this information.

This is what I learned from her presentation:

Dolores Huerta was a teacher in Stockton, California:

I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.

She co-founded the National Farmworkers (later the UFW) in 1962. This was made possible by collaborating with other workers, mainly Filipinos, who were ‘imported’ to work the fields. She was not only an organizer, but a contract negotiator.

Who has the power? We have the power. People power. 

Non-violent protest is difficult. Organizing workers was tough especially with backlash from growers and police.  Huerta was severely beaten, resulting in broken ribs and ruptured spleen, by San Francisco P.D with batons during a non-violent march. Later she won her court case.

Dolores and Cesar spoke with Latino leaders in Arizona (his native state)when the legislature pushed through an agribusiness sponsored bill denying farm workers the right to strike and boycott.

Latino leaders declared this bill couldn’t be beaten. Cesar and Dolores silently listened while they explained why the fast and efforts by farm workers would be fruitless.

“No, no se puede!” (“No, no it can’t be done”), they kept repeating in Spanish. Dolores responded,

“Si, si se puede!” (“Yes, yes, it can be done”). Dolores Huerta coined that phrase.

Dolores Huerta is an intelligent, tenacious woman who has dedicated her life to her passion for social justice and equality for all people.

 

She teaches us that we have to get out there for the things we believe in and value. It’s not easy to make that trip, but it is worthwhile.

Dolores Huerta quote. Walk into history with us.-alvaradofrazier.com
Dolores Huerta quote. Walk into history with us.-alvaradofrazier.com

 

Ms. Huerta is 83 years old and still advocating for farmworker rights, women’s rights, and heads an education and leadership foundation.

Now, when you go see the movie about Cesar Chavez, UFW, and non violent organization (I really hope you do attend a showing) remember that this is a true story, part of history, and Dolores Huerta carries on this work.

Cesar Chavez Movie
Cesar Chavez Movie

 

 

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, Dr. Lorena Parlee, Farmworker Rights, Latinos in film, Richard Perez, UFW, Wisdom

Cesar’s Last Fast

 “One man taking on Goliath like forces in a fight for social justice.”*
This article is a two part series:

A couple of weeks ago I chatted with a friend about the need for more films by Latino filmmakers that highlight Latino accomplishments. This was on the heels of the Katt Williams tirade and the frustration of reading about a movie (see my post)  which had Robert Duval playing a main character, Mr. Crawford,  based on real life pro golfer, Johnny Arreaga.  This had me thinking how the Latino community can get involved in pushing for more Latino films with Latino actors by Latino filmmakers and producers.

My friend mentioned filmmaker *Richard Ray Perez’s documentary, titled “Cesar’s Last Fast.” The film, structured around Chavez’s 1988 thirty-six day fast, calls attention to Cesar’s spiritual commitment, values, and humanity. There are eighty-five hours of never seen before footage about this fast, which includes Martin Sheen, Edward James Olmos, Ethel Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, and several other people close to César Chavez.


His political activism and leadership, grounded in non-violence, followed the teachings of Gandhi, Nehru and Martin Luther King. It was Chavez, who coined the phrase “Si, se puede.” His actions were a living example of a life dedicated to fighting for people who are among the poorest.

In my interview with Richard Perez, his passion for bringing Cesar’s spiritual commitment to light is evident. His goal is to illustrate how one person can better society through personal sacrifices. “César Chavez had the type of commitment few people have had in history. We hope to raise his profile, not as an ethnic labor leader, but as a spiritual leader. He was an incredibly unique man…his commitment has been largely overlooked.”  

How Mr. Perez came upon this project is amazing for the connections to his past and present.
“My fellow producer … likes to say that I was destined to make this film. My father was a migrant farm worker for 22 years…My aunts and uncles, his siblings were all farm workers, too. And when I was 4 years old, attending Head Start in…San Fernando … there were some (CSUN) Chicano students who volunteer(ed) at the Head Start… about 1969, 1970… I noticed one day that one of those Chicano volunteers was taking his grapes out of the fruit cocktail out of the lunch that we got, the sort of free government lunch.

I asked him, ‘Oh, why are you doing that?’ And he said, ‘Well, because, the people who pick the grapes are treated very poorly by their bosses. They get paid very little money. They often have to live in shacks. If they complain, they get fired. It’s just a very, very hard job, and their bosses treat them horribly.’

I remember looking down at my grapes in my fruit cocktail and realizing that all of a sudden they looked very, very ugly. So I started picking the grapes out of my fruit cocktail. And pretty soon the rest of the students sitting at that table all did the same, and for the rest of the year none of us ate the grapes in our fruit cocktails that were in our lunch.”

Twenty some years later, Mr. Perez made a proposal to the César Chavez Foundation to make a documentary. They couldn’t give exclusive agreement because a similar project was in the works by filmmaker Lorena Parlee, PhD., Chavez’s Press Secretary. Dr. Parlee was a Professor of Mexican and Chicano History at the University of California’s Santa Barbara, Irvine and San Diego campuses. She had exclusive rights but asked if Perez would like to collaborate, but he was working on another project and said he could it in six months. He didn’t hear from her and months later, he received a telephone call from Dr. Parlee’s family. She had died from breast cancer and left instructions to contact Mr. Perez and give him the private videotapes to finish the project.

Mr. Perez and fellow filmmaker Molly O’Brien reviewed the footage and decided to focus on how he inspired a generation of people to participate in the struggle for social justice. They are close to two thirds completed and need to raise money to continue filming and editing this documentary.

They have coordinated a Kickstarter Campaign, a crowd funding method of raising funds. The campaign will launch on September 25, 2011, with a 60-day run. The goal is to raise $20,000. Click on this link to see a one-minute trailer and go to www.cesarlastfast.com for more information. Like them on Facebook too. After all, it takes a community.