Cesar Chavez Holiday Essay, Research Paper
Cesar Chavez Holiday
Former United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez unmasked our institutions and our leaders and exposed them for to what they really were — not what they pretended to be. Chavez did it in life, and now he does it in death. Chavez is once again the subject of a controversial issue, but this time it’s not about workers rights. When the California Senate considered a bill to memorialize Chavez by making his birthday, March 31, a state holiday, the masks came off. The Senate approved the bill, 23-0, and sent it to the Assembly. But 16 senators abstained. The dissenters, Republicans, who opposed the bill, didn’t even have the guts to make a counter-argument for fear of appearing anti-Latino, given the affection that many, but not all, Latinos feel for Chavez (Arnette, B2). This fear is not unfounded, Latino voters make for a high percentage in California today. Strip away the politics and the reasons for a Cesar Chavez holiday are clear. But will this bill pass?
What reasons are there to have a Cesar Chavez holiday? Many people equate his work to that of Martin Luther King’s work for African-American people. But is another holiday needed?
When it comes to Cesar Chavez, separating the man from the myth can be troublesome. He was a great leader, but a complicated man. Chavez began to organize grape pickers in 1962, when he also established the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). He led a successful grape and lettuce boycott in order to raise wages and working standards. His nonviolent methods proved to be very effective against the farming agents. Chavez remained committed to nonviolence in spite of pressures to abandon it. He declared that the “truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice” (Levy, 31). Many people do support a Chavez holiday. It can’t be denied that by bringing toilets, clean water, and collective bargaining into the fields and taking the debilitating tools such as the “short hoe” out of them, Chavez and the UFW brought common sense, fairness, and dignity to field work.
Chavez’s victories didn’t just benefit farm workers, but the whole agricultural industry. In the same way the Abolitionists and the Civil Rights movements helped save the soul of America by forcing it to keep its promises and fulfill its greatness, the UFW helped save the soul of American agri-business by prodding it toward humane reforms. Today there are farmers who recognize that, and who are ready to give Cesar Chavez his due.
Are we going to get another state holiday? The Chavez holiday is a bigger political issue than most would think, but is it mostly politics? The ag bureaucrats who run the farming associations that claim to speak for all farmers on all issues, have turned his cause into a business, and battling the ghost of their old nemesis is big business. . Cesar Chavez caused much grief among ag businessmen and farmers as a whole. And now, far from the fields, these old ag hard-liners with soft hands spend their days pushing paper and pushing around politicians. Do they want to honor this champion for workers rights? I think not.
The tragedy is that most politicians, desperate to hold onto their offices and win higher ones, allow themselves to be pushed around. They may admire Chavez, but they are terrified of the prospect of losing elections and having to make livings in the private sector. Because of this, they do the bidding of whomever yells the loudest, threatens the most, or writes the biggest check. And ag lobbyists yell awfully loud, threaten an awful lot, and write awfully big checks. That’s the first lesson in Valley politics. Democrat or Republican. Latino or non-Latino. Old-timer or youngster. It makes no difference. If the issue on the table has anything to do with Chavez, or the UFW, you can expect our leaders to hide under the table.
What should be heartbreaking to Valley Latinos though is that the ranks of the opposition include two of their own: Assembly members Dean Florez, D-Shafter, and Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno. Reyes says she is concerned that it might affect private businesses. In the Fresno Bee, Florez explained to the press his views. “This is one of those bills that brings up old animosities. And we get put on one side or the other” (B2). That explains it clearly. They’re just playing the monkey while the farm associations again play the organ-grinder. It’s an especially sad irony that the man with whom Florez and Reyes are terrified of being associated with, worked to elect more Latinos to office. These first-term Latino legislators have ethnic surnames, and speak a little Spanish. Other than that they sound a lot like their colleagues.
What would Cesar Chavez say? Ask one of his old companions. Bakersfeild native Marshall Ganz, who worked as a UFW field organizer from 1965-1981. “You can’t be a representative for a district and just accept, for instance, farmworkers in poverty,” Ganz said. “Because that’s who lives in the district.” Ganz said that Chavez saw this coming. He explains that Chavez was afraid that the advancements he saw would create an elite class, the children and grandchildren of Mexican Farmworkers, who would forget the dark days of their past in breathless pursuit of their own bright future (Levy, 42).
So will this bill pass? I think it should, but realistically their are a large number of ways it can be shot down. Even if it doesn’t, honoring Cesar Chavez does not take a holiday. Simply treating workers fairly at all levels of industry should be offering enough. In life, and in death, you cannot keep a good man with a good cause down.
Arnette, Juan, “Holiday for All?” The Fresno Bee 14 Feb. 2000: B2.
Levy, Jacques E. “Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa.”
Matthiessan, Peter. “Sal Si Puedas: Cesar Chavez and the New American Revolution.”
Random House, 1969.
“Si Se Puede, Cesar Chavez and His Legacy.” 1996