October 13, 2000
Linda Chavez Rodriguez, daughter of UFW founder Cesar Chavez and wife of Arturo Rodriguez, the union's current president, died early Monday morning, Oct. 9 in Los Angeles of complications from scleroderma after nearly five weeks of hospitalization.
The third of eight children of Cesar and Helen Chavez, Linda was born on Jan. 22, 1951, in Crescent City, Calif. near the Oregon border, where her father had gone to work in lumber mills. The Chavezes moved the following year to San Jose, where Linda's dad began his organizing career with a Latino civil rights group. Linda lived for a time in Oxnard and East Los Angeles before the family settled in the dusty southern San Joaquin Valley farm town of Delano in 1962, where Chavez founded what would become the UFW.
Along with her mother and the older Chavez children, Linda earned money for food, rent and gas by picking cotton, walnuts, peas and table grapes so her father could organize during the union's early years. Sometimes Linda accompanied her dad and older siblings to pick cotton and walnuts around Corcoran in Kings County, recalls her older sister, Sylvia Chavez Delgado: "It seemed like we'd have to spend most of what little we earned buying food for lunchthere were so many of us. It made us wonder how farm workers could make it."
On weekends, the entire Chavez family joined their father going door to door in farm worker neighborhoods handing out leaflets inviting people to union organizing meetings. "The night before, Linda would stay up late helping make leaflets on an old mimeograph machine," Sylvia remembers. "The next morning we'd be in places like Dinuba and Hanford."
Things changed when the Delano Grape Strike began in September 1965. By then, Linda was a sophomore at Delano High School. As Cesar Chavez became known across America, life became hard on his children, including Linda.
Growers' sons and daughters "would tell us how we were rich, that our father had a private jet, a big bank account in Switzerland and a mansion in Acapulco," says Eloise Chavez Carrillo, one of Linda's younger sisters. In fact, the 10-member Chavez family lived in a ramshackle two-bedroom, one bath wood-frame house in Delano. Linda survived on food donated by UFW supporters and union subsistence "pay" of $5 per week.
When Linda wore "Boycott Grapes" buttons to class in 1968, school officials demanded she remove them or be expelled. Once Linda went on a business class field trip to a raisin packing facility in Selma, near Fresno. There was a union picketline in front of the plant. She refused to cross it, choosing to sit in the bus despite threats of expulsion from her teacher.
After graduating from Delano High in 1969, Linda volunteered with the UFW, helping farm workers obtain union membership cards and keep their records current. She worked at a farm worker medical clinic in Lamont. The Chavez-led grape boycott had convinced most grape growers to sign UFW contracts in 1970. So Linda went to work under union contract at Giumarra Vineyards Corp.
In 1973, she joined thousands of other grape workers up and down the state who shut down the fields after growers turned their UFW contracts over to the Teamsters Union, sparking a bloody strike. That summer, Linda traveled to Detroit, Mich. to help organize the UFW's second grape boycott.
One winter's day the owner of a Detroit food store doused Linda and her sister Sylvia with a water hose while they were picketing in the snow. Also in Detroit, she met Arturo Rodriguez, a young former student at the University of Michigan who was working for the union. They were married in 1974. He became the UFW's second president upon the death of Linda's father in April 1993.
During the next 14 years, the Rodriguez family migrated throughout California and the nation, wherever Arturo was assigned. Linda always worked alongside her husband.
In 1975, some growers ignored a just-enacted state regulation allowing union organizers to meet with workers in the fields during non-working hours. So Linda and her mother, Helen Chavez, were arrested while trying to speak with workers at Jack Pandol & Sons grape ranch near Delano. The rule was later upheld by the courts.
In 1990, they returned to live permanently at La Paz, the UFW's Keene, Calif. headquarters in the Tehachapi Mountains. She continued working full time in union offices, including the accounting department and medical and pension plans, until earlier this year.
Linda took pains to ensure that her three childrenOlivia, 25; Julie, 22; and Arthur, 16were exposed to the arts and education as well as social activism. Linda was proud that her two daughters graduated from college. And she and Arturo took joy in the marriage of daughter Olivia to Andrés Irlando in 1998.
Like her mother, Linda shied away from the limelight. But Anna Chavez Ybarra also describes her sister as "feisty and strong willed." She even stood up to her father, who for a time refused to ride in a brand new 1973 Firebird that Linda purchased while earning money at the farm worker clinic. Cesar Chavez didn't think it was proper for one of his children to own a new automobile. "But Linda figured, `I'm working and earning money, and I'm going to buy it,'" Anna says.
Linda Chavez Rodriguez is survived by her husband, Arturo Rodriguez; daughters Olivia Irlando and Julie Chavez Rodriguez; son Arthur; son-in-law Andrés Irlando; mother, Helen Fabela Chavez; brothers Fernando, Paul and Anthony Chavez; and sisters Sylvia Chavez Delgado, Eloise Chavez Carrillo, Anna Chavez Ybarra and Elizabeth Chavez Villarino.
A rosary is set at 7 p.m. on Thursday at St. Malachy Catholic Church, 407 West "E" St. in Tehachapi. A procession behind the casket from the UFW headquarters in Keene will begin at 9 a.m. Friday to a mass of Christian burial that starts at 10 a.m., also at St. Malachy in Tehachapi. The family requests that remembrances go to the Linda C. Rodriguez Memorial Scleroderma Fund, P.O. Box 62, Keene, Calif. 93531.