A few months ago, I was tagged in one of those recurrent meme questions on Facebook:
“If you could spend the day with anyone in history, who would you choose?”
Choosing only one answer was impossible, but one of the first three names that flew from my fingertips was the iconic Cesar Chavez. Alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi.
Cesar Chavez was a visionary. Social justice heroism personified. A civil rights champion who dedicated his entire life to a segment of society that was in desperate need of an MLK-esque voice to lead the charge.
Weathering relentless false accusations of being a communist and/or traitor to his country, the Yuma, Ariz.-born leader illuminated injustices being carried out in the dark. He brought hope to the hopeless. He was a voice for the voiceless.
As founder of the United Farm Workers Union, Chavez rightfully demanded labor rights, fair wages and better working conditions for farmworkers. Regardless of their birthplace.
Yes, criticism has always been levied at Chavez for appearing to fight more for legal farmworkers than the undocumented ones. But at the end of the day, Chavez always sought to bring humanity to the dehumanizing treatment of all hardworking people throughout the farmworker communities.
And last Friday, California, Colorado and Texas rightfully observed “Cesar Chavez Day” as state holidays on what would have been his 90th birthday.
And yet, I became sad.
As an African-American, I’ve always wondered what impact MLK would have had had we been fortunate enough to still have him among the living. I believe that even today, at the age of 88, his prescient outlook on the poverty-stricken populace would have continued to evolve and pay fruitful dividends. And not just for African-Americans.
Same with Chavez. When Cesar Chavez died in his sleep at the home of a family friend on April 23, 1993, little did we know that his passing would create a similar void in the social justice vortex.
Chavez was willing to fight for the little guy using every arrow in his quiver. And it made me think how beneficial it would be to have Cesar Chavez’s vigor available to us in 2017.
People are nervous. The rise of Donald Trump has made openly expressing anti-immigrant rhetoric socially semi-acceptable.
Technological advancement, free trade and clean energy have decimated the white working class in multiple declining industries. As a result, immigration has become the misguided torchbearer for those, like Trump, who seek to push the nativist narrative.
The scapegoat? Mexican immigrants. Instead of the white working class seeking additional education and/or a change in careers, some have unfairly branded a portion of the Hispanic population as the focal point of their fire.
That’s what saddens me. Could you imagine Chavez’s skill set put to use in a modern-day struggle? Could you imagine his powerful voice emanating from a microphone on Trump’s building of “the wall,” live on CNN?
But I wondered ... Why hasn’t a new phoenix risen from the activism ashes? Is no one willing to answer the call? Where is his successor?
But then I remembered...
The Dolores Huerta Foundation. South Kern Sol. California Endowment. Central California Environmental Justice Network. Building Healthy Communities-South Kern. Faith in the Valley. And of course... the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
Thousands of wonderful people, may of them right here in Kern County, have voluntarily devoted their lives to continuing the important legacy work of Cesar Chavez, directly or indirectly.
People uniquely qualified to stand on the front lines and fight for those Chavez was called upon by God to protect. People willing to expose discrimination and human rights violations against Hispanics, other POC’s and assorted immigrant groups in America.
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures,” as Cesar Chavez once said.
So true. And then ... I became overjoyed.
Cesar Chavez is still with us. His torch has been placed in the hands of those who understand the importance of empowerment. On occasion, into the hands of those same farmworkers that Chavez helped during his years of activism. Coincidentally, the hands of field hands.
Si Se Puede. Y eventualmente sucederá.
Thank you, Cesar. Your life and legacy are in good hands.