For the Mexican American community, the one true hero is César E. Chávez. There are many great Mexican Americans who have achieved success and accomplishment, but only César E. Chávez has transcended them all, having led thousands and inspired millions of people in his lifetime.
Chávez was a man from humble beginnings, a man of the people, who never forgot where he came from or what he was about. Chávez was a man who went no further than the eighth grade, who worked the fields, and had a family. He was a person like any other farm worker, put in a long day and enjoyed a few beers on the weekend. The difference was that he saw a need to create change for himself and his fellow workers.
Farm workers performed backbreaking, labor-intensive work, under conditions that were inhumane, and they were exposed to pesticide poisoning. Farm workers were asked to work under these conditions with little pay, no benefits and no rights. Chávez saw the problems and knew the solution to the problems was by organizing, through a union, through collective bargaining.
Upon his shoulders, César Chávez began the long hard struggle to bring about change, for farm workers. But beyond that César Chávez was an inspiration to the millions of Mexican Americans that were not farm workers. Chavez provided Mexican Americans with hope, with pride, and a sense that yes we can create change in this society that had for so long treated all Mexican Americans as second-class citizens. César Chávez provided us with the means, through organization, unity, and peaceful protest to get our message heard and create change for our people. And we could do it proudly standing on our own two feet.
When César E. Chávez passed away, despite all he had done, he was still a man of the people. He never did attain wealth, he only had $6000 when he died, and he was still fighting for farm workers rights at the age of 66.
When I go to visit mi abuela, in the living room on the right hand wall sits La Virgin de Guadalupe to the left of the Virgin is a picture of John F. Kennedy and on the right hand side is a picture of César E. Chávez. It is as it should be, it is a wall of honor and pride, it feels right.
March 31 is the state holiday, but let us honor Chávez all year long as we live by his famous ‘Si se puede’ (yes we can) and continue his struggle to bring change not only for the farm workers, but for Hispanic Americans as we continue the fight for equality.