Chavez, Cesar: 'Yes, It Can Be Done!'

Article excerpt

Cesar Estrada Chavez was a true figure of an American hero. He was the spark for the fire, which flamed the American melting pot; after all, no melting can happen without a little heat.

Chavez lived through fiery times, when hatred and discrimination burned holes in the hearts of his peers. Cesar disliked going to school as a child, but later in life he turned to the teachings of some of the world's most profound leaders. In such heated times, Cesar Chavez believed, "the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally nonviolent struggle for justice."

On his grandfather's small farm in Yuma, Arizona, Cesar Estrada Chavez was born into a world of segregation. His mother did not know how to read or write, but she taught him his first lessons in nonviolence.

As a youngster, Cesar grew up with the sounds of Spanish being spoken by his family on the homestead--parents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters and grandparents. By the time he entered school in the early 1930's, Cesar quickly learned the harsh realities of his time. Spanish was forbidden in the schools he attended. Signs read "white only," and people snickered racist remarks. The teachers only spoke English and would punish poor Cesar with a ruler to his knuckles if he would speak anything other than English. Cesar Chavez attended thirty-seven different schools and before reaching high school headed out to the field to be a migrant farm laborer.

In 1942, Cesar's father was injured, and there was a possibility that his mother would have to work in the fields. Since Cesar did not like his experience in school, he happily traded his student status for farmer, but on the field he also encountered much injustice. At this time in our country's history, segregation of Mexican Americans was an accepted practice in California.

Instead of giving in to the barriers he faced, Chavez used these challenges as strong foundations to build positive changes: "From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength."

Cesar Chavez learned many lessons outside of the classroom. His family taught him about the struggles of the Mexican Americans.

Cesar Estrada Chavez was named after his grandfather, whom the family called "Papa Chayo." Papa Chayo had been a slave in Chihuahua, Mexico and experienced many injustices. In the 1880's Papa Chayo escaped to Gila Valley and set up the homestead where Cesar Estrada Chavez was born in 1927.

Librado, Cesar's father, farmed on the family ranch and owned a general store in Gila Valley. By the time Cesar was ten years old, his father lost most of their farmland due to a bad business deal, possibly because of discrimination. It was the Great Depression, and times were tough for everyone. People would barter for the things they needed. When Cesar's younger sister, Eduvigis, was born in 1933, their father paid the doctor in watermelons. For a while the Chavez family was lucky and had land to grow food on, but in 1937 a severe drought changed their luck.

The Chavez family packed up and headed for California in search of work along with the other 300,000 migrant workers in the state. They were often forced to sleep in their car as they roamed from farm to farm, taking jobs harvesting fruit and vegetables. The family picked everything from apricots, cherries and grapes to carrots, broccoli, peas and more. The work was hard and living conditions were less than desirable. Sometimes the Chavez family stayed in migrant communities--camps set up by migrant workers around harvest locations.

Work conditions were bad, but the migrant workers did not speak up in fear of losing their jobs. With all the discrimination and tragedy of his youth, Chavez had the potential to turn into a very angry man, but instead he used this heat to melt the walls of inequality and segregation. …