Cesar Chavez

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"Cesar Chavez 1993 - A Poem"

Cesar Chavez 1993 - A Poem

Cesar Chavez 1993

                                              By Lucia Marcela Villarreal Villarreal (4/93)

I hear that soon they lay you down to rest
deep in our home, the Earth.
  Your breath, gone.
  Your look, tu mirada, gone.
  Your smile, la sonrisa que debajo del sol ardiente nos dabas a todos.
Your look, smile, breath, Cesar,
  all gone.

But no!
I remember and I see.
  You are NOT gone.
You continue with us. With me.
  You are here.
  For many days now I can’t take you out of my mind.
  I see you, I hear you, I remember!
  Bien que recuerdo.

I remember.
Those days, long ago, when like a voice in the wilderness,
you came to my family in the vineyards of Coachella.
  And I, a girl, heard your words and marveled.
  Marveled at the dark skinned young man who dared.

  Tú entre tantos machos miedosos, fuiste el único sin miedo.
  Yet you were not well received in the fields by your own.
  My father, the great man, el macho, refused to listen to you.
  So we continued working, niños, mujeres y hombres
  in the fields oppressed and poor.
    But proud.

In those days we ate pride
and clothed ourselves with that same pride.
Pride that held us where we were, what we were,
  Accepting our victim role.
  Refusing to complain.
  Allowing music, laughter and time
  to heal the wounds inflicted by patrones y mayordomos.
    And ourselves.
    As we picked and we picked and we picked,
    the many crops along the spine, Highway 99.

Our own brown men in the campos refused to listen to you.
Refused to hear your words, to allow them to enter
Refused to really see the life forced on us
  They did not dare see.
  They did not dare unleash anger at patrones.
No, our hombres, los machos, pitched their anger at their women
  their children.
    Pizcando y pizcando y pizcando.
    From south to north and back again.

In Coachella, you came and went
and left again those who would not listen.
Carried your message to other fields,
hoping that somewhere your voice of esperanza would be welcomed.
  And I, the young migrant campesina, continued in slumber.
  Deep sleep.
  Numb state of oppression.

Your voice was heard in other places.
We heard echoes and rumors in our fields.
While some campesinos cursed you as trouble make
others listened and welcomed your message.
    De esperanza y dignidad.

Then, I began to stir from my sleep.
Your words of a nonviolent HUELGA awoke me.
  Could it be, I could question life?
  Could it be, I could dare dream a life with dignity?
  Could it be, I was free to create my own life?
  Could it be, I could enter into dialogue with others?
  What an awakening!
  What a challenge!
  What responsibility!
  Now in my awakened state
  I was both glad and afraid.
  I smiled yet trembled.
  And waited. . .

When you returned to Coachella,
seeing you again spread your words in our fields,
I found myself, the awakened maiden,
working the vines, wanting to join La Lucha.
Drawn to the struggle
  wanting the promise of freedom,
    la lucha hacia la libertad.

  But first-steps towards freedom
  had to be taken at home.
My father, my first oppressor, forbade me to believe in your words.
  Words that told
  to rise up nonviolently
  for better wages,
  for descanso,
  for baños,
  and water in the fields.

My awakening brought bitter arguments,
daughter standing up to the father,
  cringing at falta de respeto,
  and aching for approval from him,
  yet ready to break the chains:
-Mira, muchacha, el dólar de antes ya no es!
El patron ahora nos paga más-
The dollar of yesteryear is now $1.25.
25 cents more for added survival power!
I, (INSERT COMMA) the obedient daughter, countered,
-Mire, papá, con el dólar de antes (ITALICIZE YOUR RESPONSE TO DAD)
sólo la uva cortábamos y a la caja la ecábamos.
Ahora cortamos y EMPACAMOS,
Más dinero, sí, pero doble trabajo-
Labor the partrón got from two paid workers,
el pizcador y el empacador,
He now gets from one grape picker for only $1.25.
Por un poquito más dinero, mucho más gana el patron.

  -CALLATE¡  Callate, muchacha!
  The oppressed, used and abused father,
  silencing his daughter again,
    and growing tired of heated battles,
    I left towards nowhere
    away from home.

Away from fields and strikes
Toward boycott picket lines,
  Drawn now to LA CAUSA with others
I learned a lesson from you,
that a belief in FREEDOM
  had to be followed with ACCION.
Many of us took that action
dividing families and friends . . .
and learning, as we followed your footsteps,
  that personal freedom
  brought great personal pain.

the lessons we had to learn!

If we had thought that life in the fields was brutal,
  life in the picket line was war-
  Battling enemies that hated
  our brown presence,
  yet needing us for their wealth.

Warring with patrones
Was like a war against ourselves.
How to battle those providing us livelihood?
Battling the hands that oppressed us
Felt like biting the hand that fed us.
How to break the umbilical cord?

  Meetings with regional leaders
  Pushing us to the front lines.
  I, the fledgling college student
  out of the grape fields marching
  in Safeway picket lines,
  Yelling, “Boycott grapes!”

Carrying the picket sign was no burden.
Burden was carrying the shame of angry words.
Raging words that lashed out at us,
  Words that questioned our very being.
  Palabras de odio.
  “Mexican trouble makers,
    Go back to Mexico!”

I, the former virginal princess,
was now the awakened whore.
questioning my being.
  Who am I?
  Why am I?
  Answers were hard to come by.
In the midst of that shame and pain
I continued believing that
  by the grace of God
  there went I,
  field laborer
    loathed for being.
Then, proudly being!
Blessed by the presence
a humble Cesar
  One of our own.
  Who taught us that ¡SI SE PUEDE!
You, our Great Cesar, in Ghandi’s footsteps,
led us in marches
in pickets
in vigils
in prayer
in fasts
  that won for us better wages
  water, toilets, breaks,
  better conditions
    and even better:

Y aún mejor,
Your great labor of love and direct action helped
to win over mi papá y mi mamá.
My mother, now a Chavista,
My father proud by her side.
my folks in picket lines, striking
  carrying the black EAGLE,
  both yelling out, “HUELGA!
  Both photographed in EL MALCRIADO.
  Fighting the oppressor.
  Hands interlocked with others,
  human wall in the fields.
  So good to see my elders, at last
  helping to lead the fight.
  Our machos turned into real man.
  voting for LA UNION
  Seeing that si se puede
  ser union card carriers and proud!
And there for the grace of God
Went we, with so much hope for the future. . .

. . . today, Cesar,
soon they lay you to rest
deep in your home, the EARTH.
  Nuestra Madre Tierra.
  And from that Earth we will continue
  taking sustenance
  from Her
  and from YOU
    nourishing the life
    the dream
    the vision
    that you gave us.

I see you, I hear you, I remember!
  Bien que recuerdo.

    I SEE YOU.
    I HEAR YOU. ¡Si se puede! 
    !Siempre se Podrá!