Cesar Chavez as a Catholic and Citizen


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The Catholic Church played an important role in the United Farm Workers as Cesar Chavez did too since they helped him make the farmworkers working conditions and wages better.

Reading the article The Migrant Experience by Robin A. Fanslow, one might learn that in the year 1910 the Mexican Revolution had an effect on many Mexicans since they left their homeland to go to the United States to find a “better life.” Yet many of those people were leaving in one of the worst eras of their lives still in the United States; after the Great Depression, thousands of farmers moved to California with their families to find work. But why to California? The article states: “One reason was that the state’s mild climate allowed for a long growing season and a diversity of crops with staggered planting and harvesting cycles.” For farmers, it was an “ideal place” to work. Yet after reading the article further in reality one might say it was not as they thought because farmworkers had a lot of injustice in their life such as “unlivable wages . . . and dangerous working conditions.” Farmworkers also faced “substandard housing, malnutrition, illiteracy and disease” (Fanslow). It was so bad that there was an unsanitary privy that all farmworkers had to share. Looking at the image from Dorothea Lange, one might see that the bathroom doesn’t have an actual door for privacy, instead, it’s surrounded by ripped clothes. That is no privacy at all! One might also see there is not a place to wash your hands before or after using the toilet. In addition, this type of sharing could lead to a disease or an infection because everybody shared it.

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According to the book A Triumph of Spirit, the historiography of Cesar Chavez, it is said that Chavez believed in non-violence for his Union since he felt that violence would only lead to the destruction of the strike. Because he was Catholic, one might say this was one of his tactics of being and respecting the Catholic Church. The book also describes how Cesar Chavez would kick out anybody from the union if someone used any type of violence. Instead, the book recalls that he used a fast that lasted twenty-five days to demonstrate a nonviolent method. Nobody knew about his fast. It was not until “the fourth day that he decided to hold a meeting of the strikers to announce his commitment” (Griswold, 85). Chavez’s fasting was not going to end until his members from the Union would commit to not use violence. There were some people that were on his side supporting him and others that didn’t support him at all. As an example, his wife, Helen, was against his fast; she even argued with him and called it “ridiculous” and “crazy,” the same book mentions. Student liberals and the activist volunteers opposed it as well since, according to author Griswold, it brought a negative religious display to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, Jerry Cohen, who was the Unions council chief was going to support Chavez by going on a hunger strike with him as Griswold describes in his book. One might say about the fact that Cesar Chavez never thought about the consequences since later on in the same book he describes how he got sick and got hospitalized. One might say that sometimes someone has to stand up for yourself and defend your family in any way.

In another book, The Words of Cesar Chavez, that was edited by Richard Jensen, it informs that Cesar Chavez made a huge impact among California agriculture as he was able to accomplish the farmworkers to get better pay and get the respect they deserve. The first step he took was when he quit his job with the Community Services Organization to start his own union. “Chavez built the first successful farm workers union in the history of the United States” (Jensen). The book also informs that Cesar Chavez spoke to hundreds of farmworkers and started with a group of forty at that time. He also initiated the Grape Strike and boycotts.

Author Prouty describes that Cesar Chavez showed his catholic faith all the way through his movement by making masses to the public and by leading his strikes with a flag of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Indeed, he has the support of the Catholic Church where many nuns and priests got involved. Cesar Chavez even stated about the church “the single most important thing that has helped us” (Prouty). One of the examples from the Catholic Church was a priest by the name of Monsignor George Higgins who was also known as the “labor priests” and who was involved with migrant workers in the 1950s. “I doubt that anybody has done as much for us as Msgr. Higgins has” (Prouty, 22). The book by Prouty also mentions that Priest Higgings joined the National Advisory Committee in order to eliminate the injustices that the farmworkers were going through. In addition, through the National Advisory Committee, Priest Higgings started a campaign where he educated the farmworker’s situation; he actually represented the Catholic Church committed to social justice and also contributed all of his Catholic teachings to the Bracero program.

Furthermore, Poultry also talks about another priest named John Ryan who helped Cesar Chavez and his movement as well. The book describes father Ryan as an advocate for working people, especially for farmworkers. Father Ryan even sat down on strikes to support: “forced against the unjust aggression of an employer who refused to pay a just wage or who forced his workers to build under dangerous conditions” (Prouty, 14). This quote shows that father Ryan wanted social reform for the workers. One might say that the Catholic Church did well in supporting Cesar Chavez in his movement. The church should always support in meeting the needs of the people, especially when it comes to the needs of equality and fairness. One might also say that by the Church getting involved more people heard about the farmworkers’ movement.

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