Cesar Chavez as an Effective Leader

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Intelligence is defined as the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, this can come in many forms. Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor most known for his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner believes there are seven intelligences; musical intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. Many people seem to possess interpersonal intelligence which includes the ability to understand and interact effectively with others. Many important people in history have used their interpersonal intelligence to accomplish many great things. Cesar Chavez was one of those people who used his interpersonal skills to help him understand and help people.

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Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona to Librado and Juana Chavez. Cesar’s household was mainly spanish speaking so when he started attending the Laguna Dam school which prohibited other languages other than english, he encountered some problems.

Cesar Chavez was determined to improve the way immigrant farmers were treated so he did many risky things to change their lives and raise public awareness. He and his union went after many powerful people and corporations like Schneley, DiGiorgio Corporation, United Brands Corporation, and even the food branch of Coca Cola. The Teamsters, a labor union, attacked some of the UFWOC’s people so Chavez’ aides convinced him to take precautions. Despite his lack of concern for his own safety, he was put in an office with 10-inch thick walls and an around the clock guard dog named Boycott.

He not only put his union in danger, but himself as well. He and his supporters marched 21 miles in a day giving him a swollen ankle and large blister. The next day his right leg was swollen to the knee, and by the week’s end he had to ride in a station wagon because he had gotten so injured. Chavez also fasted three times during his life to raise awareness for his cause. He had fasted for 25 days and 24 days straight his first two times. Then, on his final fast at 61 years old, he didn’t eat for 36 days. He did so to support grape boycotts and to protest antiunion laws.

Cesar Chavez had some critics, even people who called him a communist, but it was and is clear that he was a very sociable person. He won the hearts of farm workers and social activists. When Cesar Chavez had a hearing due to his refusing to lift a boycott and 2,000 farm workers came to Salinas to attend the court hearing carrying flags and candles. They respected Cesar’s nonviolent ways and quietly filled the court room and the outside area for 3 1/2 hours. He was friends with people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. In fact, Coretta Scott King and Ethel Kennedy (the widows of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy) came to visit Cesar while he was serving what would end up being 20 days in jail because of his refusing to lift that boycott. The United Farm Workers Organizing Commitee (UFWOC) or what it was later called, United Farm Workers (UFW), gained 30,000 members within six years of being established. A vote was taken in California to see what union, if any, farm workers wanted to be represented by. 30 percent wanted the Teamsters, 27 percent didn’t want to be represented by a union, and 53 percent put their faith in the UFW and in Chavez.

‘Humor’ isn’t usually the first thing people think of when it comes to Cesar Chavez, but part of his charisma is that he could make a joke about a lot of things. Even when he was put in jail and fined for $500, he made fun of Bud Antle for thinking that just because they put him in jail, he would stop encouraging people to boycott Bud Antle’s lettuce.

Cesar Chavez came from a poor family of immigrant farmers, the duration of his education was seventh grade, and he himself was a farmer living in poverty. He fought an onslaught of corporations trying to get fair pay and treatment for farmers despite being threatened and putting both himself and his supporters in danger. He fought politicians who didn’t support him and his cause. He sacrificed his health to further his beliefs. In the end, his persistence paid off because Chavez’ union, the UFW, became California’s farm workers’ official union.

Cesar Estrada Chavez died peacefully in his sleep on April 23, 1993 near Yuma, Arizona, a short distance from the small family farm in the Gila River Valley where he was born more than 66 years before.

The founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO was in Yuma helping UFW attorneys defend the union against a lawsuit brought by Bruce Church Inc., a giant Salinas, Calif.-based lettuce and vegetable producer. Church demanded that the farm workers pay millions of dollars in damages resulting from a UFW boycott of its lettuce during the 1980’s. Rather than bring the legal action in a state where the boycott actually took place, such as California or New York, Church “shopped around” for a friendly court in conservative, agribusiness-dominated Arizona-where there had been no boycott activity.

“Cesar gave his last ounce of strength defending the farm workers in this case,” stated his successor, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, who was with him in Arizona during the trial. He died standing up for their First Amendment right to speak out for themselves. He believed in his heart that the farm workers were right in boycotting Bruce Church Inc. lettuce during the l980’s and he was determined to prove that in court.” (When the second multimillion dollar judgment for Church was later thrown out by an appeal’s court, the company signed a UFW contract in May 1996.

After the trial recessed at about 3 p.m. on Thursday, April 22, Cesar spent part of the afternoon driving through Latino neighborhoods in Yuma that he knew as a child. Many Chavezes still live in the area.

He arrived about 6 p.m. in San Luis, Arizona-about 20 miles from Yuma, at the modest concrete-block home of Dofla Maria Hau, a former farm worker and longtime friend. Cesar and eight other UFW leaders and staff were staying at her house in a poor farm worker neighborhood not far from the Mexican border.

Cesar ate dinner at around 9 p.m. and presided over a brief meeting to review the day’s events. He had just finished two days of often grueling examination by attorneys for Bruce Church Inc.

He talked to his colleagues about taking care of themselves-a recent recurring theme with Cesar because he was well aware of the long hours required from him and other union officers and staff. Still, he was in good spirits despite being exhausted after prolonged questioning on the witness stand; he complained about feeling some weakness when doing his evening exercises.

The UFW founder went to bed at about 10 or 10:30 p.m. A union staff member said he later saw a reading light shining from Cesar’s room.

The light was still on at 6 a.m. the next morning. That was not seen as unusual. Cesar usually woke up in the early hours of the morning well before dawn to read, write or meditate.

When he had not come out by 9 a.m., his colleagues entered his bedroom found that Cesar had died apparently, according to authorities, at night in his sleep.

He was found lying on his back with his head turned to the left. His shoes were off and he still wore his clothes from the day before. In his right hand was a book on Native American crafts. There was a peaceful smile on his face.

On April 29, 1993, Cesar Estrada Chavez was honored in death by those he led in life. More than 50,000 mourners came to honor the charismatic labor leader at the site of his first public fast in 1968 and his last in 1988, the United Farm Workers Delano Field Office at “Forty Acres.”

It was the largest funeral of any labor leader in the history of the U.S. They came in caravans from Florida to California to pay respect to a man whose strength was in his simplicity.

Farm workers, family members, friends and union staff took turns standing vigil over the plain pine coffin which held the body of Cesar Chavez. Among the honor guard were many celebrities who had supported Chavez throughout his years of struggle to better the lot of farmworkers throughout America.

Many of the mourners had marched side by side with Chavez during his tumultuous years in the vineyards and farms of America. For the last time, they came to march by the side of the man who had taught them to stand up for their rights, through nonviolent protest and collective bargaining.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney, who celebrated the funeral mass, called Chavez “a special prophet for the worlds’ farm workers.” Pall bearers, including crews of these workers, Chavez children and grandchildren, then carried their fallen leader, resting at last, from the Memorial Park to Forty Acres.

The death of Chavez marked an era of dramatic changes in American agriculture. His contributions would be eroded, and others would have to shoulder the burden of his work. But, Cesar Chavez, who insisted that those who labor in the earth were entitled to share fairly in the rewards of their toil, would never be forgotten.

As Luis Valdez said, “Cesar, we have come to plant your heart like a seed . . . the farm workers shall harvest in the seed of your memory.” 

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