Cesar Chavez is my hero, my “Gandhi”. I was raised in the orchards and vineyards in valley, Green Valley, over the range from Napa. In the spring the farmworkers kids would come to our one room shcol. I loved them instantly-so beautiful with warm brown skin, thick black hair, and eyes that had such depth.
Little did I know that the sores on their arms were from lack of running water and huts or campfires that they were forced to live through the over one hundred degree summers. A friend of my father’s was visiting, and as usual, I was in the hall eavesdropping. He said “Oh, I’ve got it great. I send some of my boys down to the border in open top cattle cars. They load as many braceros in them and drive them up here. (through the Salinas Valley). I tell them I’ll pay them at the end of the summer, even overtime, and then I just report them to the Border Patrol so I don’t pay them and I don’t have to get them back to the border”.
He was laughing. I was ten years old, and felt sick. These were my friends and their families. I couldn’t believe it-my parents just said “I know, it’s terrible, but that’s the way it is”.
Hearing about Cesar Chavez and his movement was one of the best things that’s happened in my 67 years. I was living in Los Angeles, and I marched with the UFW every time I could. I went to the 25 year anniversary in Delano and was amazed at how much we had accomplished.
I was on an L.A. freeway when I heard about our fearless hero’s death. I swerved off the road and stopped, and sobbed, and sobbed. I really didn’t function well for a week or so. My friend Yolanda Machada and I drove up to Delano for his funeral. It was excrutiatingly different from the anniversary celebration. I was marching next to an older gentleman who had walked most of the way from Arizona, and his huaraches were worn out.
To share grief was deeply moving. It helped me move through my grief. I’ll never forget Robert Kennedy Junior carrying the simple wood casket-remembering his father’s bold support for Cesar, regardless of piercing criticism.
Two summers ago, I was driving my van to California-I live in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to visit my dad who is now 94. I had my big wolf hybrid, Apache with me-he was one of those special dogs-people had a soul reunion in his presence. I took a shortcut and went we turned on a road-there was the sign for Cesar’s home and monument. I almost swerved again!
Apache and I were standing reading a beautiful writing on a wall, and Apache went right over to a spot and lay down. I was amazed because it was so hot-he usually went for the shade. I called him and he wouldn’t move. Along came one of Cesar’s grandaughters, who said “Oh, no wonder. he’s laying on the graves of Cesar’s dogs”. You can imagine what that meant to me. It was such a moving, refreshing “happenstance” and I treasure it.
Here in Las Cruces, we celebrate Dia de Los Muertos in the plaza of Old Mesilla. I set up an ofrenda for Cesar-I had a big cardboard sign from a birthday celebration for him in the barrio of San Diego. I had photos of marches with him, some memorial cards, one from a march in L.A.
I hadn’t expected so many people to stop and spend some private moments with our Cesar. Some cried, some touched the flag or the mouse pad, the photos-they were grateful and so was I.
We have a school here that is dedicated to Dolores de La Huerta. I met Arturo Rodriguez in Detroit, and it was bittersweet to realize he’d taken the fallen torch. I thanked him, and I thank all of you.
Cesar lives forever in so many hearts! Viva por Siempre, Cesar!