I have to admit I am very lucky to have been able to call Cesar a friend. You see while I grew up in NYC, far from the fields of CA, my mom was a UFW supporter and I remember Cesar and the UFW from the time I was a young kid. I was around 5 years old when I participated in my first picket line at our local Hills supermarket. I remember being so proud of my bright red flag.
Anyway, I joined staff years later right out of college and then agreed to come to California. Cesar promised my mom he’d look after me and he did, whether I liked it or not.
I have so many special stories about Cesar. Some are about Cesar the labor leader, but most are about Cesar the person, because part of the beauty of being a kid is you don’t obsess on the fact that you’re hanging with a famous person, you just treat them like anyone else.
I wanted to share two stories. The first was how Cesar got me to speak in Spanish. By this time I was in the union for two or so years and we both knew I understood what was going on around me, but I was too self-conscious to speak out loud. When our previous photographer, who was also the contact for the cancer cluster families left, Cesar told me he was putting me in charge of the families. I remember saying in shock, “but Cesar I can’t talk to them.” His response was “take a translator, your heart will speak.” I did not want the impersonal contact through a translator, something Cesar knew me enough to realize, so I started speaking Spanish out loud. Later on we laughed about how he maneuvered me past my fear.
Another one of my favorite stories was maybe a year or so before Cesar died. We were going to NYC to do a media tour and I was booking Cesar on all sorts of talk shows. Anyway, I was sent out with a bunch of folks from the boycott staff right before the Jewish High Holidays. Cesar was deeply religious at his core. It did not matter what your religion was, he did not discriminate, but the concept of religion was a essential part of Cesar. We had discussed religion an number of times together and I know he worried about how I was pulling away from my Jewish tradition. So while I was driving cross country to NY, he did something about it. I was speaking to my mom from the road and she told me how excited she was about the upcoming holidays. I was a tad confused and said so. She then told me that Cesar had called her and told her he was giving me the high holidays off so I could spend it with my family. I was totally flabbergasted, but ended up spending the holidays with my family as Cesar had managed to get me back to temple again.