Things That Matter

César Chávez Changed The Way Our Country Treats Immigrant Farm Workers But There’s Still A Lot Of Work To Be Done

If you are a Latino living in the United States, you’ve probably heard the name César Chávez. He was one of the first freedom fighters that advocated for the rights of farm workers, many of which had Mexican heritage. César Chávez is an icon of Chicano identity and still a source of inspiration for civil rights advocates and for those who use reason to fight injustice. 

Here are 21 facts about one of the most amazing Latino community leaders of all time.

He was born in Yuma, Arizona.

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His full birth name is César Estrada Chávez (yes, he took on his mom’s last name) and he was born on March 31, 1927. 

He had five siblings and grew up in an adobe house.

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César Chávez knew what it was to live precariously from a very early age. His family owned a ranch, but they lost the land during the Great Depression. They also lost the family home and so.

His parents moved the family from Arizona to California in search of work like many families.

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César Chávez’s parents, Juana Estrada and Librado Chávez were forced to move to California, where they became migrant farm workers. They faced many tribulations picking peas, lettuce, cherries, grapes, and beans. 

César Chávez became a farm worker, and thus his life as an activist began.

When he was a teenager he found the great solidarity that he showed for his whole life. He and is sister volunteered to drive fellow farmers to the doctor when they needed to be looked after. He soon discovered that things are better achieved when community members help each other. 

He dropped out of school in seventh grade.

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Young César Chávez couldn’t go to school while his mother worked the fields, so he left his formal education and became a full-time farmer.

He worked on farms until he joined the United States Navy in 1942.

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The experience was quite negative. César Chávez had hoped to translate the skills he learned in the military to his civil life. He served for two years only during World War II.

1952: an activist and pop culture star was born.

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César Chávez worked en el campo non-stop until 1952 when he became an organizer for the Community Service Organization, a group that looked after Latino rights. In this role he met Fred Ross, an experienced community organizer and the rest, as they say, is history. He urged voters to work and protested industry malpractices.

He founded the National Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta.

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Just 10 years after starting his activist efforts, César Chávez founded the NFWA with fellow Mexican-American activist Dolores Huerta. This dynamic duo revolutionized farmers’ conditions in the United States and started an era of non-violent protest against powerful corporations and government wrongdoings.

With Dolores Huerta by his side, he led a historic strike in the grape industry.

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The year was 1965 and the conditions were ripe for a great leap in the workers’ rights movement. With Huerta, César Chávez organized a consumer boycott against Californian grapes until labor conditions were improved for grape pickers. The strike made the national headlines and even Robert F. Kennedy supported the movement.

In 1966 the lucha expanded to Texas and farm owners were terrified.

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César Chávez is mostly known for his activism in California, but his legacy has impacted the whole country. In 1966 similar movements started in Texas and the Midwest, where César Chávez’s legacy led to the formation of unions such as Obreros Unidos in Wisconsin and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Ohio.

César Chávez and United Farm Workers organized the largest strike in U.S. history with results.

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Known as the Salad Bowl Strike, it happened in the early 1970s and consisted in a series of strikes and boycotts demanding higher wages for grape and lettuce workers. In order to support the strike, César Chávez fasted as a form of non-violent demonstration.

He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

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After that, César Chávez used fasting as a form of protest. He fasted, for example, when Arizona prohibited boycotts and strikes by farm workers. He was inspired by Catholic doctrine and by the non-violent forms of resistance made popular by Gandhi when resisting British rule in India.

He was a family man.

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When he returned from his service in the military he married his high school novia, Helen Fabela. They moved to San Jose and had eight children.

He was a vegan.

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Long before the vegan movement gathered full force, he was a vegan, both because he fought for animal rights and because he had some health issues.

He was proud to be a Roman Catholic.

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It is not common for leftist activists to follow a religion, but César Chávez was a devout Catholic. He felt that the doctrine echoed his own sense of social justice, similar to what some Liberation Theology priests in Latin America have advocated for.

He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three occasions.

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Even though he didn’t get the accolade, the American Friends Service Committee put forward his nomination three times. The prize would have been la cereza en el pastel, but to be honest, his legacy doesn’t really need it.

He has been a part of the California Hall of Fame since 2006.

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Thirteen years after his death then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the First Lady Maria Shriver hicieron los honores.

He was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Then-president Bill Clinton presented the coveted award on September 8, 1994. César Chávez’s partner in crime, Dolores Huerta, got hers from Barack Obama. 

César Chávez Day is a state holiday in California.

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Mark your calendars: March 31. It is not a federal holiday, but Barack Obama urged Americans to “observe this day with appropriate service, community, and educational programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.”

There are numerous schools, libraries, and parks named after him.

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Most of them are in California but don’t be surprised if you find one in your hometown.

He died on April 23, 1993, pero la lucha sigue!

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He died of natural causes at the house of his friend and fellow farm worker Dofia Maria Hau. He is buried at the National Chavez Center in Kern County, California, the epicenter of his now legendary struggle to reach fair conditions for the many heroes working the land.

READ: Rep. Gohmert Has Filed A Resolution To Change Cesar Chavez Day To ‘National Border Control Day’

A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

Entertainment

A New Documentary Exposes The Massacre In Porvenir, Texas That Left 15 Mexican-Americans Dead

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Porvenir is a Spanish word. If you break it down, por venir literally means to come, and the translation is the future. It’s also the name of what used to be a tiny town in Texas located right next to the Rio Grande on the border. The village of Porvenir in Texas, which is a town no more, had roots that reflect the brutal and deadly colonization that this country was built on. 

“Porvenir, Texas” is a new documentary on PBS that brings to light the massacre that happened on the border more than 100 years ago. 

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As the tense immigration crisis continues in this country today, the documentary “Porvenir, Texas” shows how this struggle has been part of our history since the inception of the United States of America. 

The story of the massacre cannot be told before discussing the war between the U.S. and Mexico. While the U.S. continued to expand in the southwest through its war with Mexico, the battle to live and remain in the country affected the most vulnerable people who weren’t part of the war at all. They were Mexicans who lived in Texas and along the border before it was ever part of the United States. However, after Mexico lost Texas to the United States, those living in Texas, became Americans overnight. That didn’t please the incoming residents — white people looking to make the country their home. 

The documentary exposes the brutal killing of 15 Mexican men — some who were American as well — which the U.S. tried to hide from history. 

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With the expansion of the U.S. throughout its new state of Texas, white ranchers staked their claim in areas that were owned by Mexican-Americans. Like gentrification today, Texas was also gentrified during the Wild West, which meant Mexicans, who were now Americans, were displaced because of higher taxes. 

With the revolution still going on in the Mexican border and new white ranchers taking over land, racial tensions were high. White people were told that all Mexicans were “bandits” and Mexican-Americans were in fear for their lives thinking they could be killed based on the color of their skin.

White people were killing Mexican-Americans outright with no consequences, and the film shows graphic images of that. 

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Here’s a summary of that fateful violent night as reported by NBC News: “In the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 1918, a group of ranchers, Texas Rangers, and U.S. Army cavalry soldiers entered the village and rousted the residents from their beds. They led away 15 unarmed men and boys of Mexican descent to a nearby bluff, where they shot and killed them. These victims ranged in age from 16 to 72, and some were American citizens. The town’s women and children fled across the border to Mexico for safety. The next day, the perpetrators returned and burned the village to the ground. Porvenir ceased to exist.”

We have no idea how many other Mexican-Americans were killed with such brutality during this period because there’s no record of it. The only reason the story of Porvenir can be told today is because of two men that documented what happened. 

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Harry Warren was a white teacher that worked with some of the community in Porvenir and wrote about what happened that night. He also was a witness to the bodies.  José Tomás (“J.T.”) Canales, who was a state legislator at the time, launched an investigation against the Rangers, and his depositions and testimony have been preserved as well. 

“There were many cases like Porvenir, where the initial response from the state was to try to fabricate what really took place,” Monica Muñoz Martinez, an assistant professor at Brown University and the founding member of the public history project Refusing To Forget, told NBC News. “It was not unusual for the state to try to justify such acts, by criminalizing the victims. Residents of Porvenir were described at times as squatters or bandits. None of this is true.”

Christina Fernandez Shapter produced the film and spoke about the importance of making sure these stories are never forgotten. 

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“I am Mexican American myself, I am from Texas, my family has been here for generations,” she told NBC News. “And I know we all have stories in our families, sometimes of land being taken from us or other injustices.”

Here’s a clip of the film.

Click here to watch the entire documentary. 

READ: This Exhibition Told The Stories Of Mexicans And Mexican-Americans Who Were Illegally Deported In The ’20s And ’30s

A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

Entertainment

A New Documentary Is Shedding Light On The Labor Organizer Who Fought For Farmworkers Before Dolores Huerta

George Ballis / Take Stock

Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez are often considered the leaders in the farmworkers rights movement. The two have done a lot to better the lives of those working in the fields, but a new documentary is highlighting a forgotten hero in the farmworkers rights movement. “Adios Amor” is highlighting the work of Maria Moreno, who fought for their rights before Huerta and Chavez continued her work.

Before Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, there was Maria Moreno, the first female farmworker to lead a union.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

 Adiós Amor—The Search for Maria Moreno, is a feature film that examines the life and death of the obscure labor leader. Moreno was a migrant mother who sacrificed everything but her twelve kids in the pursuit of justice for farmworkers. During the late ’50s and ’60s, Moreno’s work led poor agricultural workers into a movement that would later capture the heart of the nation. 

The discovery of forgotten photographs taken more than fifty years ago sparked the search for an unsung hero. A migrant mother haunted by a personal tragedy who rolled up her sleeves, collected signatures, and electrified audiences with her gift for public speaking for a cause she believed in.

Moreno was the first female farmworker in America to be hired as a union organizer. She was elected by her fellow Mexican American, Filipino, Black and Okie farmworkers to represent them. Her charisma attracted crowds, but it also got her into trouble with her labor bosses who fired her for being so outspoken. 

The film’s director and producer Laurie Coyle found photos of Moreno tucked away in an archive.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Were it not for the Maverick photographers and journalists who captured Maria’s legacy, her story might have been lost. Coyle has said that the idea for the project began after she found the images captured by late farmworker photographer George Ballis. The photos depict Moreno speaking in front of crowds and meeting with workers in the fields of California, racing to events with her children and husband.

“She had this piercing gaze and always seemed to be surrounded by children,” Coyle told Shoot Online. “I couldn’t help but be captivated.”

Coyle began researching about Moreno. But the whereabouts of the activist later in life remains a mystery. The search for Moreno guides the documentary, where characters fade in and out like ghosts. From California’s Great Central Valley to the Arizona desert and U.S.-Mexico border, the journey tells Moreno’s story with passion and humor. The director soon discovered radio journalist Ernest Lowe, who had followed Moreno during her days as a union leader and had also been enchanted by her charisma. 

Moreno and her family were traveling farmworkers following the crops.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Born to a Mexican immigrant father and Mescalero Apache mother, in Karnes City, Texas; Moreno and her family were nomadic farmworkers for years. Following the crops, their travels took them to Utah, California, Arizona, and Texas. 

In April 1958, Moreno started her union activism following a flood that pushed many workers into starvation. Coyle found that one of her sons went blind temporarily due to extreme hunger. “How do you think that I feel … seeing my son blind only because we don’t got nothing to eat?” Moreno said in one passionate speech. “(Meanwhile), some other tables are full and wasting food.”

In a time of unprecedented abundance, farmworkers lived in dire poverty, and Maria Moreno set out to change that.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

A deeply human drama is brought to the viewers’ attention, Mexican-American farmworkers living in dire poverty at a time of unprecedented abundance. An abundance sustained by impoverished peoples’ faith, family values, and working-class culture. 

Adios Amor – The Search for Maria Moreno pays tribute to the people whose hard work feeds the nation, and celebrates the courageous woman who told their story to the world.

She gained support from Oklahoma migrants, Filipino American workers, and Latino pickers, and was active in the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, a union that was sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

“It was so unusual for a woman like her back then to be in this position,” Coyle told Shoot Online. “The first time I understood that she was somebody different was when she went to (University of California,) Berkeley,” Martha Moreno Dominguez, her daughter, said in the film. “I realized who my mother really was … I said, wow, you know. Here’s my mother, a second-grade education doing this.”

Eventually, Moreno was forced out of the union and left California to practice her faith.

Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock

Eventually, in 1962, Moreno was forced out of the fight due to jealousy and disagreements within the union. Documents show an AFL-CIO official accused her of misspending and she was forced to step down from leadership.

“She wasn’t afraid to say whatever she had to say,” Gilbert Padilla, co-founder for the United Farm Workers, told Shoot Online. “I assume that’s why they got rid of her.”

Coyle’s research found that when Cesar Chavez began to form his own farmworkers union, he purposely kept Moreno out of it, seeing her as a “big mouth”, and a possible rival.

Moreno’s children say she left California for a remote part of the Arizona desert, 100 miles west of Phoenix, where she asked God for guidance. Later in her life, Moreno became a Pentecostal minister along the US-Mexico border in San Luis, Arizona. She sought to transform society one soul at a time, instead of focusing on systemic change. Maria Moreno died in 1989, largely forgotten.

Watch the trailer below.

The film is set to premiere Friday, September 27 on most PBS stations.

READ: Dolores Huerta The Latina Freedom Fighter Who Taught Us ‘Sí Se Puede’ Has Been Arrested Over 20 Times