- May 2, 2017
- 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
- Hughes Library, 25 Heritage Green Pl. Greenville, 29601
View Map | Cost: Free
Cesar Chavez Talk
Join an audience that loves talking back to history to discuss Cesar Chavez’s message of non-violence, protest and hope with Vera Gómez, workshop facilitator, performance poet, SmartArts’ teaching poet, founding member of Greenville Poetry Slam, president of Emrys and author of “Barrio Voices.”
Cesar Chavez, a former migrant worker, became an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union – UFW.) Stressing nonviolent methods, Chavez drew attention for his causes via boycotts, marches and hunger strikes.
If you were around in the 60’s and 70’s, you might have lots to add to the discussion about the boycott of table grapes and lettuce.
For Vera Gómez, the story of Cesar Chavez is not just history. It’s personal. Vera was born to immigrant parents and raised in Lubbock, Texas. Cesar Chavez was the voice that spoke for her family.
Vera is a bi-lingual poet and a firm believer in the power of words. Her collection of poems, Barrio Voices, was published by Stepping Stone Press in 2008. Her poetry has appeared in Yemassee; KaKaLak: Anthology of Carolina Poets; Millennial Sampler/South Carolina Poetry Anthology; Ties That Bind, Quintet, and State of the Heart: Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, Volume II.
Growing up in Arizona near Yuma’s Gila Valley River, Cesar and his family knew poverty but not destitution. Cesar’s parents, Librado and Juana, instilled many key values in their children, including a strong family core. Through everything their family survived because their family stayed together. Through thick and thin. A devout Catholic, Cesar’s mother was known for her many proverbs or dichos, which she used to emphasize the importance of charity, respect for others, and nonviolence. Cesar would later use these sayings in his own down-to-earth style, “God gave you senses and a mind and a tongue, so that you can get out of anything,” and “he who holds the cow being killed, sins as much as he who kills her.” Juana Chavez was an uneducated woman but very wise. And from her, Cesar learned the value of simple and direct wisdom.
With the advent of the Great Depression, the family eventually lost everything. As conditions became worse they were forced to join the masses and head west in search of migrant farm work in California. The Chavez property was sold at a public auction and eventually fell into the hands of the company that would later become part of Bruce Church Inc., a giant vegetable company. As Cesar would say, “If we’d stayed there, possibly I would have been a grower….God writes in exceedingly crooked lines.”
After completing the eighth grade in Brawley, California, Cesar was forced to leave school when his father suffered a serious automobile accident, and Cesar had to work full-time to help support the family. He later committed himself to self-education, reading everything he could find, including the writings of Gandhi and St. Francis of Assisi.
In 1952, Chavez joined the Community Service Organization (CSO), a community redevelopment group whose aim was to find ways to eradicate poverty in Latino neighborhoods. Here is where he learned to organize and strategize. Later he would found, The United Farm Workers (UFW). Rather than a traditional union he envisioned a social movement – a crusade that he later called “ El Movimiento” (The Movement) that would inspire farm workers to organize themselves and change their lives. And though many people liked saying that it was his union, his commitment was in empowering a people to take charge of their lives and provide for themselves with a union that they could very easily say was theirs.
In his crusade for equality for farmworkers he became spokesperson for the equal rights of every man. As the union grew so did his popularity as a new civil rights leader. Spreading his message of peace and equality during the turbulence of the 1960’s brought hope to people rich and poor alike. Reaching people in the fields and union meeting halls and college campuses everywhere. As people watched him engage in pilgrimages and fasts they were reminded of the importance of patience and non-violence. The urgency of what needed to be accomplished never tempted him to falter, or to resort to what was easier. For Cesar Chavez, the goal of a social justice movement was to challenge the myth of violence by showing that there are other ways to develop power and authority.
Cesar believed that violence is a sign of weakness, and not an indication of strength or power.
One of Cesar’s greatest virtues was patience. He always knew a nonviolent struggle would not be easy. If the people were to succeed in their struggle, he knew it would take years of sacrifice. Which would require unending patience. Something that came easier to him but harder for most. This is where his challenge would lie.
Cesar Chavez never believed in the concept of means and ends. He believed that everything that one does in life is an end, in itself. So, by making ones actions the kind that they would be willing to be judged on, would prepare them for the adversaries that would constantly provoke them in their struggle.
For Cesar fasting was a very personal thing. Though he engaged in them throughout his career for the cause he felt compelled to fast to purify his own body, mind and soul. He never did them out of a desire to threaten anyone or make anyone feel guilty. They were always very spiritual and meant as a way to communicate a message to people.
- 1927 Born on family farm outside Yuma, Arizona
- 1937 Family lost farm and forced to become migrant farm workers
- 1942 Quit school after the eighth grade and worked in fields fulltime to help support family
- 1944 Joined U.S. Navy during World War II; before shipping out. Arrested in a segregated Delano, California movie theatre for sitting In “whites only” section
- 1948 Married Helen Fabela; eventually having eight children together
- 1952 Joined Community Service Organization (CSO); A community re-developement organization
- 1962 Established National Farmworkers Association and held its first convention
- 1966 Along with band of strikers, marched to Sacramento, California to draw national attention to the plight of the farm workers. NFWA became known as United Farmworkers
- 1967 UFW began boycott of all California table grapes
- 1968 Fasted for 25 days to rededicate the movement to nonviolence
- 1970 Most California table-grape growers finally signed UFW contracts
- 1975 California adopted Agricultural Labor Relations Act, guaranteeing rights for farm workers
- 1982 California Governor George Deukmejian reduced Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s budget and closed many of its offices which made it hard for farm workers to file complaints
- 1988 Fasted for 36 days to protest use of pesticides on farms
- 1993 Died peacefully in his sleep in San Luis, Arizona
- “Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak. Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”
- “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducated a person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future and the future is ours.”
- “ Even in the face of the biggest disappointment there’s always that faith that tomorrow’s gonna be different.”
- “ In organizing people, you have to get across to them their human worth and the power they have in numbers.”
- “ Time accomplishes for the poor what money does for the rich.”
- “ La Raza? Why be racist? Our belief is to help everyone, not just one race. Humanity is our belief.”
- “ I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. So God help us to be men.”
- Drake, Susan Samuels. Fields of Courage: Remembering Cesar Chavez And the People Whose Labor Feeds Us. Capitola, Calif.: Many Names Press, 1999
- Ferris, Susan, Sandoval, Ricardo, and Hembree, Diana. The Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement. New York: Harcourt, 1997
- Griswold Del Castillo, Richard and Garcia, Richard A. Cesar Chavez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
- Jensen, Richard J. and Hammerback, John C. (editors) The Words of Cesar Chavez College Station, Texas: Texas A & M University Press, 2002.
- Ross, Fred. Conquering Goliath: Cesar Chavez at the Beginning.Keene, Calif.: El Taller Grafico Press/ United Farm Workers, 1989.