Cesar E. Chavez Day

I have a few questions/issues regarding why Chavez is/was so venerated in the culture.

As a child, my dad took me to strike rallies where Chavez spoke and I felt how much people liked him. When I was in college I went to his funeral. In graduate school I began to question. Here are some thoughts:

Yes the corporate owned media and 'the man' would rather give a person using peaceful non-violence methods rather than self defense for self determination, but why did everyone else join in?

In that era, the late 1960's-early 1970's, EVERYONE was ready for a revolution. The civil rights movement fueled a conversation that had all colors, and most classes, demanding and willing to put their lives on the line for a plethora of issues: racial, sexual, class, the end to the Vietnam war, better education, police abuse, abortion rights, animal rights and the environment (yes even back then). Yet many chose to make sure that farm workers got better pay and treatment. Yes, they were being abused and exploited and deserved better, but in that era of cultural, social and political changes, asking for a raise and better treatment, just seems a tad myopic.

It seems like many of us chose to look out for a small minority of the population instead of fighting for the majority who lived in the city, were in screwed up schools, were being beaten by police, being sent off to war, discriminated against in jobs because of their gender or race, and some were even fighting over land. The American Indian Movement, Reis Tijerina's Allianza de Pueblos, and to a degree Corky Gonzalez's Crusade for Justice were fighting over land use/rights issues (and many other related issues) that cut to the core of many of the problems in the US.

Were we duped into fighting an easier battle and giving up the war? Chavez was an inspirational speaker, in an era of inspirational speakers. Why was his voice amplified the most by the media and then us? Was it easier to sit and fast than to pick up a gun for A.I.M, the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, or any other group at the time? Did Chavez believe in Aztlan? Did he feel bad when he called the migra on strike breakers?

I know as a leader of a union Chavez had to be focused on his cause. Yet, when the spotlight was on him did he acknowledge and support the other causes and fights for justice going on at the time?

Today we are again being led to march and fight for a minority in the population_____________. Yes they need us to fight for them, but imagine if we could get everyone to march and speak out on the issues that affect the majority of us, such as____________? (Fill in your choices)

I'm glad we have a Chavez Day. He was positive and worked in and for light. His light touched and ignited other lights who went on to fight in other fronts. I await other days for other warriors that lived, fought and died for a cause that served others.


la rebelde said...

Your post makes me think about how individuals so often become heroes who, later on, come to represent entire movements and thousands of people who participated in so many different ways. It seems like in these (master-)narratives, sometimes there isn't room for critique--heroes are no longer seen as complex people with contradictory ideas and actions. I wonder if this is especially true of certain civil rights movement folks--especially, as you say, the ones who advocated "non-violence" as a method of advocating social change. With men heroes especially (when do we hear about women heroes?), there is rarely a discussion of sexism or heterosexism (for example), which only perpetuates narratives of power, I think.

Lorena said...

Don't WAIT, activate...

I think you should start working on a National Dr. Rodolfo Acuña holiday!

He is from your beloved BH que no? Not to mention an absolutely prolific scholar.

tacosam said...

This is an intersting post. I bet most people don't know that Cesar Chavez was against illegal immigration because he thought they undercut wages and his union.

LA Times did an interesting investigative piece on Chavez and his descendants/followers last year or the year before. They interviewed lots of people who had worked with Cesar Chavez in the beginning of El Movimiento but later were "purged" out because Chavez perceived they were not loyal or because they did not agree 100% with Chavez.

The LAT also followed the money trail--fundraising by the UFW--and how the money is misspent or not used to aid farmworkers. UFW lost its relevance when Chavez died. I sometimes get these mailers from the UFW asking for money, I just throw them away.

I'm not sure how I feel about the Chavez State Holiday. Outside of a few activists, no one takes it seriously. And, I don't think you can equate Cesar Chavez work to that of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Anonymous said...

tacosam, interesting that you mention this. Just a few days ago a colleague and I were discussing the same point. Basically an icon for the community to identify with. Chavez is to "la raza" as Dr. King to African Americans. I am not saying that the man did not work hard for his beliefs, but lets face it, I've worked for a Migrant Program in Los Angeles and 99 percent of the participants were undocumented workers. For him to be against illegal immigration is hypocritical. Chicano Studies professors conveniently forget to mention this, when they are going on and on on how great he was. Looking back at history, everyone covers up their dirty little secrets, and Chicanos are not the exception.