Defending the Voiceless Immigrants-And Future Generations

Article excerpt

Looking back on Cesar Chavez's life, I am amazed at how the man and his work defi ed expectations. As the twentieth century progressed, United States labor unions swelled with longshoremen, teachers, fi refi ghters- but farm workers?

As co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union with Dolores Huerta, Chavez successfully organized America's poorest, and arguably the most politically impotent, labor pool into a powerful force for economic justice. That the UFW could win major concessions on wages and working conditions from some of the nation's largest produce growers surprised many; that those victories were led by Chavez, a softspoken, fi ve-foot-six, unassuming man committed to nonviolence bedeviled not only the growers but popular imagination.

Indeed, Chavez was not the brash, burly, bare-knuckled archetype of a union boss. His quiet resolve was punctuated instead by asceticism and weeks-long fasts that captured the nation's attention and galvanized support for the concerns of men and women who toiled outside the consciousness of mainstream America.

In the years since Chavez' death in 1993, the UFW has remained the nation's leading voice for farm workers, expanding its network of organized farms and turning a new generation into champions for the progress Chavez envisioned. …