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Cesar Chavez's Legacy

Cesar Chavez's Legacy

Peter Dreier

Many people thought Cesar Chavez was crazy to think he could build a union among migrant farmworkers. Since the early 1900s, unions had been trying and failing to organize California’s unskilled agricultural workers. Whether the workers were Anglos, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, or Mexican Americans, these efforts met the same fate. The organizing drives met fierce opposition and always flopped, vulnerable to growers’ violent tactics and to competition from a seemingly endless supply of other migrant workers desperate for work.

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I suppose I’ll date myself if I reveal my first taste of political activism, as a mere sprout, was on behalf of Prop 13 “for the farmworkers” – for Cesar Chavez.

In the Bay Area we have some complicated issues with terrible people like Justin Herman being honored by the names of public places, and having to slink back in embarrassment. I want to be clear that Chavez isn’t anything like Herman. Chavez is a hero, but a complicated hero, with aspects of his heritage which should not be swept under the rug out of respect for his legacy. Real heroes have complicated legacies. With that said, there is another side to Chavez’s legacy:

The irony is that during most of his tenure with the UFW, Chavez was virulently anti-immigrant in his public and private lives. He led his union to campaign for the deportation of undocumented workers and, at times, even green card holders became targets.

For the farmworkers, a warts-n-all history is actually more respectful, because that’s how it really went down. This article is briefly realistic about some of Chavez’s shortcomings, which I appreciate. (I’m kind of allergic to hagiography.)


That is not true. Cesar was very much against undocumented immigrants being exploited - but he was not anti-immigrant at all. Currently, Trump and his allies are taking some of Cesar Chavez’s statements out of context and using them to support their xenophobic worldview

(see for example, https://fusion.tv/video/2197/dolores-huerta-schools-us-on-cesar-chavezs-views-of-undocumented-immigrants/)

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This is a fine piece on an American hero, Cesar Chavez.

In some of my earliest activism, I was involved in the UFW grapes boycott in front of a Chicago supermarket, in 1974, I believe.

May Cesar Chavez continue to inspire.

That is patently false i am afraid.
After he began working with Kennedy and Brown, Chavez spent much of his time going after undocumented workers, and worked with the INS to organize mass arrests on multiple occasions.
In 1973 he organized “the wet line” along the Yuma border to prevent undocumented workers from entering the country.
His cousin was tasked with helping immigration agents locate and detain anyone who tried to cross the border illegally.
While he probably always had good intentions, the fact is that he did sell out once he began working with the establishment.

There are many reasons to admire Chavez, and much that can be learned from him, as well as his mistakes.
One important lesson, is that anytime the establishment “honors” an activist, it is not because they wish to honor the man or inspire future activists. Quite the contrary.
Chavez’s legacy, much like any other activist you care to mention, is being continually whitewashed and distorted.
It is true that Chavez believed absolutely in peaceful resistance exclusively, and was convinced that boycotts could solve any worker dispute, but he proved this to be false in the end.
He also showed us that working with the establishment and its politicians is a loosing proposition.
Once he started down that path with Kennedy and Brown, he turned on some of his former friends, like Epifanio Camacho, who wanted to continue with strikes and more aggressive actions instead of boycotts, and lost much credibility among workers as a result.
This combined with his attacks on undocumented workers ensured a steady supply of scabs, which made subsequent collective actions much less effective.
Once the Vietnam war was over he was never again able to win another collective bargaining contract through boycotts.

This is incorrect - I have just received the following from the U.S. Patent Office.

April 6, 2019
U.S. Patent Office Action Letter

Mr. Pearl,
Examiner 327084 has reviewed your application for a patent for the alleged falsity of certain claims about Mr. Cesar Chavez. Your application has been rejected on all three grounds under examination. The examiner finds that the alleged falsity is not novel, and the lack of novelty is obvious, as such claims have been made by a number of xenophobic politicians aligned with the current President of the United States. The examiner also finds that the theory that Cesar Chavez was anti immigrant does not work since his statements were always about people being brought from Mexico as strike breakers. The examiner notes that the use of the racist term “wet backs” by Mr. Chavez is not further proof since spelled backwards that is skcab tew which is pronounced “scab too”.
USPO rules dictate that patentability requires that the tool or device be novel, not be obvious, and must be shown to work. Thus, while you may be a tool who should not be left to his own devices, USPO Examiner 327084 finds that your post was not patently false.