Cesar Chavez Taught Me to Love Climbing Mountains ~by Caro Garcia

This blog was originally posted in Caro Luevano-Garcia’s blog


I grew up in Arvin, California. This small town sits at the foot of Bear Mountain, toward the south-eastern end of the Central Valley. I recall that if it were a good year, the snow level might reach down past the foothills to the town itself, which inevitably led to an abundant display of wild flowers in the spring. In the mountains, toward the Tehachapi Pass, nuzzled into a small set of hills is Keene, the location of the United Farm Workers Union offices/compound, now a National Monument. The monument is part of a property known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz. When we went there for meetings, or to work on the property itself, or to work on boycott signs etc, it was simply called, La Paz. Beside the occasional trip to see the snow, going to La Paz was as close to going into nature as I got.

I remember the huelga days, through the eyes of a child.

I remember the rush of activity at my aunt’s home one afternoon when she announced that Cesar would be coming to the house for a meeting. I didn’t quite understand why or what for, but it was exciting. For me though, hanging out with cousins (I am the second oldest of the group) was all that mattered. The camaraderie of adults joined together by a cause would trickle down to the children, who with every passing event grew stronger in their own perception and self awareness.

I was about ten years old (1972) when I became acutely aware of what was going on and started asking questions. I learned about working conditions, wages, boycotts and fasting. I learned about fairness, basic rights, speaking out, and struggling to make life better. I learned to march in protest.

Chavez once said that, “self dedication is a spiritual experience.” He spoke of his belief that farm workers felt pride in their hard work, expertise and talent in helping crops grow to produce a bounty that ironically gentle hands would harvest to feed the world. Their work was in part a labor of love and respect for the Earth itself.
He was correct. When my family joined in the struggle for justice, I learned about the right to feel proud of who my mom and dad are, and the work they did to keep our family fed and in good health. I learned over the years that their work was more than just a paycheck. In learning to be proud of my ethnicity and culture, I learned also of racism.

I grew up knowing that the land my father managed was not ours, but that its bounty was a direct result of his dedication and commitment to the crops, and for that we could all be proud. His old truck wore a bumper sticker that read, “When you talk bad about a farmer, don’t talk with your mouth full.”

In learning that the growers finally signed contracts and that people as far away as England cared about where and how their food was grown, I learned to value my parents and their labor. Ultimately, I learned to value myself. I learned that I could do anything I wanted if I planned well, worked hard, remembered who I am, and celebrated myself accordingly. Celebrating oneself is not a naturally occurring phenomenon amongst the humble.
From Cesar I learned that we all need help sometimes (communities) and that learning from others (MLK, Gandhi) is just as smart if not smarter than trying to do it alone without input.

So when I finally accepted an invitation to go backpacking in Yosemite, an invitation I balked at for years, I jumped in with both feet. I asked questions, researched, bought equipment and most importantly, I said to myself, “Si se puede!” (I can do this!)
That said, I was like many grown ups, keenly aware of all the things that could go wrong, not the least of which was what my hair would look like after sleeping in the wild. One trip was all it took. I was hooked. But why? What is it about mountains that make us feel alive? For me, it was knowing in retrospect, at the end of it all, that in fact, I did it and I did not die.

I will not lie to you, I didn’t think of much beyond surviving that first trip. I stared down Half Dome. It was the kind of feeling you get when you stand up to a bully; a little scared, a little excited, heart racing, and looking around to see who has your back. I took pictures and when it was safe, I looked back and reflected. We were there. We did that. We saw that. We made it back. Look how far we went.
But a more meaningful change occurred within me as well. Like Cesar said, “Once chosen change begins, it cannot be reversed.” I wanted to go back. I wanted to see what else I could see, feel, touch, experience. Each trip we faced different mountains, different water crossings, different challenges. Each trip, I thought, I can do this!

I felt I was changing. I knew that in facing and conquering mountains I was conquering any doubts I had about what kind of person I am. Sir Edmund Hillary said, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” He and Cesar both knew that once a challenge was met, the challenged would be changed forever.
Being a great strategist, Cesar learned from each mistake, and each triumph. Likewise, I have learned a lesson on each trail, water crossing, pass, and mountain. Sometimes those lessons are about the trekking, about the process; how to make something happen. The lessons are about learning to get from one point to another without getting wet, slipping, falling, etc. Sometimes those lessons are more about content and meaning than process.
About community, Cesar said, “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with them. The people that give you their food, give you their heart.” In the mountains, we share food, not only because it lightens our loads, but because it lightens our hearts as well. The community of hikers and backpackers is at once conjoined and distant. There is a respect for privacy and the sacred experience of being with oneself in the wilderness. At the same time, there is an understanding that if help is needed, help will be provided, even if its in the form of a bowl of chicken soup.

More frequently, the lessons for me are reflective, about myself. I truly am more than I think I am. I am bigger than my problems and obstacles. It’s a matter of having the courage to discover the boundaries of my own comfort zone, and then expanding them. It’s a matter of paying attention to what I say to myself when I’m doing something scary and then living the self talk. The lessons I have learned on a mountain are just as applicable in my day to day life. When I come across an injustice, I no longer fear the challenge of addressing the issue. I just plan, organize and seek assistance.

I was a lucky child in that I was able to grow up with parents, family, friends and neighbors that were part of La Causa and as a group, we grew in self pride, self worth and self determination. Learning to confront seemingly unsolvable problems with educated grace and calm, despite feeling fear and trepidation is one of the greatest lessons that can be taught to a child. It is a lesson I learned from being around Mr. Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union.

But this was not the only lesson. Perhaps even more importantly, we learned that we matter. We learned that we can make our own contribution to society in whatever fashion we choose. Some of my generation of children whose parents were/ are UFW Union members have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, and law enforcement officers. All have become better people through our shared knowledge that we are not powerless…that we matter. Cesar wanted that. He wanted us to know we matter so that we would be strong enough to effect change.
Now it is up to us to teach our children, and our children’s children, and our neighbors’ kids, and our kids’ friends, and pretty much anyone that will listen, that going out into the wild-unknown is good for our body, mind and soul. It’s not just about seeing the land, its also about seeing ourselves in it, a part of it. Take your kids out into the world, so that they don’t believe they belong in the periphery. Once we teach our children that we belong to the world and the world belongs to us; once we teach them that we all matter, we secure their future of inclusion. Once they feel included, they will feel empowered to effect change; to be the change.
When the mountains call they whisper, “Teach the children to love climbing mountains.” Pass it on.

César E. Chávez National Monument, Keene, CA
César E. Chávez Foundation

Cesar Chavez March by Xitlaly Reyes

I grew up with a narrative of the latino family doing outdoor labor and not outdoor recreation. My grandfather was a farm worker, my father and mother were farm workers, and the homes I grew up in as a child were, more often than not, right across an agricultural field.

This month in honor of Cesar Chavez day the Lideres del Sendero hiking club which, I am a part of, participated in the Tucson, Arizona Cesar Chavez March and Rally on Saturday, April 19th in an effort to address the ethnic disparity among Saguaro National Park visitors. The disparity arises from Latinos making up about 41% of the Tucson population but only representing 3% of park visitors.



Lideres del Sendero has many goals, one of them being combining the experience of the outdoors with cultura. As I walked down 6th ave toward Rudy Garcia Park I was surrounded by it. Chants describing issues facing the latino community such as education, immigration, workers right and even Black Lives Matter emerged from the crowds at different times. Children as young as five carried signs that were at least half their size. The elders who were able to march did and those who could not waited for our arrival at the park. It is this aspect of Latino culture that one must keep in mind when planning outdoor events or outreach to the latino community, the familia. Lideres del Sendero seeks to train community trail leaders so that they can lead their familia through hikes in and around tucson. Cesar Chavez kept familia in mind while doing his work and now his children continue to work for migrants rights.


Once we arrived at the park the event became more of a party with storytelling and music. Giant puppets reenacted Cesar and Dolores fight for workers rights followed by a sombering reminder that rights are still being fought for here in Tucson. Workers from El Super grocery store are fighting for fair working contracts and are asking the community to support them by boycotting the chain store. After different calls to actions were made such as asking people to join in on the Cesar Chavez Day of Service and a Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta campout at Saguaro National Park I had the opportunity to get the word out for the Lideres del Sendero hiking club.
Even though I grew up with the narrative that latinos work outside and don’t really play outside I have decide to work towards creating a counter narrative where Latinos go hiking, rock climbing, and camping in the desert. By committing to go on at least one hike every week and inviting others to join me I am making a difference in my narrative.

Cesar Chavez, Naturalist, Farmworker Organizer, Friend by Albert “Abby” Ybarra

On the 23rd anniversary of the death of Cesar Chavez

abby cesar

In the years since our dear brother, friend, and community leader Cesar Chavez passed away, I’ve had the occasion to think about the blessings in my life and how my family found itself in the middle of a historic movement. I learned the native ways from my grandfather who took us on many outdoor trips. As a young child, I remember walking with him as he searched for medicinal plants use for his work as a “Curandero”. These early environmental excursions to the outdoors were my entry and what soon became my life’s passion and connection to nature. It was during these treks that my grandfather told me about his farm labor organizing work. But it wasn’t until I was in high school that I had the chance to learn about the great United Farmworkers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) and it’s contributions to Latinos and labor.

While in college, my brothers, friends and I gathered food to feed the striking farmworkers in the grape fields in Delano, CA. On one of our first winter break trips to Delano, we all met Cesar Chavez at the 40 Acres United Farm Workers (UFW) headquarters. I knew immediately he was going to be someone we could follow anywhere and into the world when he was organizing. The history of my grandfather’s organizing work in the 1930s in San Diego County immediately had all the relevance in the world. I knew this stuff, although I never picked crops, I knew farm work from my family history. Our ancestors lived off the Sonora desert for generations, as gathers and farmers, and those stories and my subsequent calling to gardening became evident to me and where I was headed in life.

I am an Assistant Scout Master and Venturing Crew Advisor with the Boy Scouts of America. My work with the Scouting programs has kept me outdoors for most of my non-school time. As I learned later from my elders, this was my destiny and I was to be a person who cared and worked for others. I was born into activism with my own family and the love of social justice led me to join Cesar and the movement. I was ready and understood what had to be done – had to be done now.

abby cesar1

Being around Cesar Chavez and his family gave us time to see and watch him work with the union and his family. My initial inclination was that he was a hard working person who was an inspiration to all who worked with him. After his fast of 1972, we saw a different Cesar not seen by the media or masses who followed his work. He went to Arizona (Mt. Lemon) for a few weeks to heal up from the fast. He hiked daily, and continued to grow in strength with longer hikes in and around the canyon. He loved being in the natural world, surrounded by fast moving streams and playing simple games like playing horse shoes and eating healthy. I believe our long talks led me to improve my own eating habits and Cesar gave me a book to read which helped me go vegetarian for many years. Learning to eat healthy and organic in the early 70’s was not easy. There was no Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to shop in and grocery stores rarely carried organic products.

Cesar’s activities outside of organizing revealed to me that he liked being outdoors. He enjoyed taking his family beach camping to Carpentaria Ca. The things he did with his family often showed us that Cesar was connected to the natural wonders, and led his family to enjoy it with him.

In later years of his union life, Cesar had more time to work his organic gardens. As small time gardener since early youth myself, this was an area where I felt comfortable talking with Cesar. Our last long conversation was at La Paz where he was preparing his annual winter garden. La Paz is the union headquarters and home in Keen CA. That was the winter of 1992, probably October or November. Cesar’s gardens varied in sizes but usually he grew everything on about 2 to 3 acres, and he set up his own drip irrigation system. Cesar Chavez never used pesticides on his food production. I saw him one more time in February in Los Angeles for a funeral mass for a long union supporter Fr. Olivares. I stood just a few feet away with Jackson Brown who played for the service. Cesar smiled slightly when our eyes met but I recall most is that he looked very tired that day.
Sadly, this was our last meeting, as a few months later he was called to walk to the other side on March 23, 1993.

As I look back I can see it was my destiny to meet and know Cesar. His presence was powerful. For anyone who had the chance to talk with Cesar, you would know immediately that he was an inspiration and what he envisioned for farm workers we could also wish for ourselves.

Our talks about gardens and the natural world we lived in are the best memories I have to share about my times with Cesar. Whenever I here talk about aquaponics gardening, I can recall that coldish day at La Paz (Keene CA) when Cesar and I last spoke in length. We talked at length about the future of aquaponics gardening and the understanding that our ancestors had already proven this system with the creation of the gardens of Xochilmilco in Mexico City, in the 8th century by the Nahua people.

Our meeting, the connection of our families, and now my life’s work in environmental and conservation education had its roots in the many times I spoke one on one with one of the most inspirational people in my lifetime. Knowing him up close and our personal, our family connections, makes my work more meaningful. I like to think Cesar would smile at what I’ve done with my time working to connect people back to our innate connection to the natural world.

Albert “Abby” Ybarra
Project Indigenous
Environmental Education Specialist