I started as a full time volunteer for the Union in 1985 so while I was there during Cesar’s 36 day fast in 1988, I don’t need to tell you about that because there’s already a movie coming out called “Cesar’s Last Fast.” Rather I want to tell you about my fast.
I took up fasting in high school. I would march for the Equal Rights Amendment and fast, to the consternation of people selling food to raise money for it. I would fast in college a lot. There was a time when I would eat once every few days, right before an exam.
So when I joined the union I already had experience in this discipline. The person who hired me had fasted a lot too, in fact he was fasting on the day I took the bus down for my interview and I was starving while he had forgotten all about food. He and sometimes his wife used to fast on liquids for the entire Lent. I tried to learn to fast for longer than the few days I had been. The first time I fasted after I started working at UFW and was trying to go longer, after like four-six days I had a bad reaction and stopped. I would fast here and there for a few days, usually up to six if I wasn’t doing juices, which for me seemed to work better. Sometimes we’d only fast on water like when Fred Eyster, the Director of the Migrant Ministry, died some people fasted for three days. What worked best for me tended to be to fast on anything that had zero calories.
So when Cesar started fasting in 1988 I fasted for the first few days too in solidarity, which was probably not such a great idea since it was too soon after my surgery, and I told Cesar before he moved his fast to Delano. He said that one faster at a time is all we can handle so I stopped.
But I started again next year, which was 1989. I think it was exactly a year later but at the time it just worked out that way. I had been planning to an extent. I read a book on fasting. Fasting is like meditation or yoga or like running a marathon or studying law or like any number of other things. It helps if you have natural or inherited talent like many pro athletes do, but it’s actually a discipline that you study and work on and practice and improve.
So from this book I learned that after the first few days you will stop being hungry and that most people can fast safely for that point until hunger returns, which is usually three weeks and after that is when you are really risking your health. I decided I would try to go until that point.
My personal motivation was to end stagnation, within and around me both. There was a lot of blocked energy. Things stopped, stale where they should be moving and going forward.
Until now, the only people I’ve ever told were Cesar and the person who hired me and my preacher. The first four days I had tea but the tea made me sick to I stopped. Then after that I had water, black coffee and diet soda. As it turned out I heard that at one time Cesar had tried diet soda while fasting.
The reason for the diet soda was because it helped my stomach but mainly because I had an issue with depth perception when fasting and sometimes had to stop fasting because I couldn’t drive due to lack of depth perception. The diet soda solved this so I could drive. And the reason for the coffee was that I was determined to not take time off but to keep working as normal.
I’ve heard of a Ramadan blessing “May you have an easy fast.” For the most part it was. I didn’t get sick or have to take to bed and I managed to work the whole time like normal. I started having food dreams. All my senses were extreme. I could smell French fries for blocks, hear music and conversations from far far away. When I had my diet soda I could feel each and every bubble on my tongue.
At day 14, like you’re supposed to, I got the leg cramps and yeah those hurt. But since it wasn’t unexpected it wasn’t scary in particular. I stopped being hungry after the first few days and when Hunger returned on Day 21, I had the choice to stop or continue and chose to stop, whereas Cesar had continued past that point, the last time for more than two additional weeks.
I broke the fast with bean soup and crackers with my preacher.
A few days later I said to Cesar that I had been fasting and I was feeling run down and tired since I stopped and he said about the feeling afterwards “It’s a bit of a letdown isn’t it?” I’m glad I did it because I got what I came for and more. If you never open that door then you’ll never know what’s behind it.