¡Si Se Puede! ¡Viva La Causa! These are words that as a farm worker, activist and Latinx, I found inspiring to grow food, take care of the land and inspire others that yes, we can. We can grow our own food, we can fight for our rights as human beings, yes we can create the space for our brothers and sisters to share their voice, passion, and gifts. This is what Cesar Chavez has inspired in me. Cesar Chavez, born on March 31, 1927 outside Yuma, Arizona, has left a mark of power, dreams, and pride to migrant farm workers, civil rights activists and Latinos. After his family lost their farm in 1938, his family and him became migrant farm workers throughout California area facing the hardship and injustices that migrant farm workers still face today. In 1965, Cesar along with Dolores Huertas founded the National Farmers Workers Association, later being named the United Farm Workers Association (UFWA) in Delano, California. Along with Filipino grape pickers in Delano, UFWA organized a Grape boycott in the U.S. and Canada along with having grape growers sign the union into their contracts with farm workers (The Cesar Chavez Foundation, 2012). Cesar Chavez work has left a mark to other civil rights organizations for migrant farm workers such as the Coalition of Immokalee Farmers in Immokalee, Florida and Justicia Migrante, Migrant Justice in Burlington, Vermont. The legacy of Cesar will grow throughout our history in many different environmental fields in which Latinos are present; from farm workers, to conservation of our National Parks. Cesar has left us with a foundation to move forward towards equality of growers and migrant farm workers, exemplary leadership among civil rights movements, and pride of our roots, from our culture to our hometown, Cesar wants us to always remember that ¡Si Se Puede!
Up until the sixties, farm workers were mistreated and no one seemed to be able to do anything about it. During World War II, when there was a scarce amount of labor, migrants were being welcomed to the United States to be able to pick the fields. At this time the Bracero Program was initiated under President Truman. The amount of work that was to be done to the number of people actually being admitted to the US under this program was relatively small. There was an increase in migration from Mexico. It was decided that the program would be extended to have people legally in the US while working in the fields. In a span of sixteen years, there was an annual average importation of 200,000 Braceros per year. Although legally in the US, these migrants suffered the deterioration’s of living in the fields. Cesar’s saw the struggle of working in the fields and living in such poor conditions that he started a movement that would forever influence the movements to come.
The traction that the movement picked up was an incredible stepping stone for other movements to come. The sixties were a time for change that would be seen across the entire country. From the beginning, with the Civil Rights movement that made a tremendous impact on other movements as well to fighting for equality. All of these movements brought to light the injustices that were seen from schools to workplaces. The movement that Cesar Chavez created along with Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong influenced students in schools that saw how they were being marginalized because of skin color. A lot of Latinxs and Chicanxs saw a disparity in higher education and they started a movement for students to have rights in all levels of education, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán. A movement that until this day still runs strong all across the country seeking equality in higher education, a space in which the population of Latinxs enrolled and that graduate has not been high. M.E.Ch.A has been highly influenced by Cesar Chavez and the movement that he helped get started inciting more and more Latinxs to follow a higher degree than just high school.
A fair living wage and decent living conditions is what farmers demanded. An equal opportunity to send their kids to school and a chance to live a life without fear of getting deported at any time. Farm workers have seen so many injustices and the fight for better working conditions was achieved through hard work. There is no doubt of the influential power the Farm Workers Movement has caused in the country. People now are fighting for a living wage that can sustain their families because the cost of living keeps going up but wages have remained the same. People are fighting for better working conditions because they saw the power that lies behind numbers and a movement is starting to rise in which everyone, migrant or not, has better pay and living conditions. The struggle will continue but paving the way for those generations to come will make this country a better place for all those that need to “sacar a su familia adelante.”
The fight that this movement taught us is that we need to continue looking for a way to move forward as a community. The toughest thing that we will face as a community is the adversity and the wall put by others in order for us not to move forward. The Latinx community will always have struggles but with unity and strength any setback that we get presented we will be able to overcome it. Fighting for better treatment at work and better wages will be a fight that will not be over soon but at least we are voicing our concerns and we are showing that we are here and we are not going anywhere. Cesar would be proud of what his movement has brought to the country and he would see that we are fighting the good fight y que ¡la lucha sigue!
Mayo, A. F., Brummel, B., Lopez, G., Bolero, D., Pessah, M. M., In Wolfmeyer, D., Southern Poverty Law Center. Bill Brummel Productions (Firm). (2008). Viva la causa.
Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Tolerance Project. (n.d.). Latino Civil Rights Timeline, 1903-2006. Retrieved from:http://www.tolerance.org/latino-civil-rights-timeline.
The Cesar Chavez Foundation. (2012). About Cesar. Retrieved from: http://www.chavezfoundation.org/_page.php?code=001001000000000&page_ttl=About+Cesar&kind=1
United Farm Workers. 2016. http://www.ufw.org/_page.php?menu=research&inc=history/03.html