From the beginning Cesar’s Chavez ideology of always standing up for people set him apart and made him a leader rather than a follower. More importantly, however, his character affected people. He was not only a person to be followed but also a beacon of hope, both religiously and spiritually. His rhetoric of nonviolence only helped towards his appearance of an effective leader seeing as he borrowed this ideology from Gandhi. Cesar believed that the true way to change the circumstances many laborers unjustly faced was to prove to the farm owners, and any others who discriminated them, that they were capable. More specifically, that they were capable of fighting for what they believed in, while staying true to the path of non-violence which symbolized their capability of being civilized, but most importunately united. The question remains however, to what extent did Cesar Chavez’s experiences and ideology contribute to him being a successful civil rights leader, and aid the success of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s? It’s important to know what circumstances molded Cesar Chavez as a person and made him become the leader he became for the Chicano Civil rights Movement. More importantly, what made him have the mentality and dedication that was required of him to achieve his and many other goals and dreams.
Cesar Chavez was born to Juana Chavez and Librado Chavez in a family of eight, including him. He was born and lived his early years near Yuma, Arizona. His large family was not unusual from where he came from, and his experiences with his family, mainly his parents, are what made him adopt many of the ideas and beliefs that he held throughout the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Cesar lived comfortably at first, due to his parent owning and maintaining many shops during their time in Yuma. Unfortunately, Cesar and his family, like many others during the 1930s, suffered a great economic loss due to the Great Depression. After not being able to keep their land, they were forced to move into his grandparent’s farm. This was a hard, transitional time for Cesar and his family seeing that they had to adjust to living in poverty. Due to the circumstances they lived in Cesar had to help his father in many places and had to learn things for his own. From a young age he was put through the circumstances and the need for money many others had to deal with and thus later knew that the problem that he lived in wasn’t appropriate living for many and sought to get rid of it in the years to come. Not only this but the fact that Cesar had a more comfortable life before is what made him a more suitable person seeing as he saw poverty as a misfortune rather than a norm like many other Mexican-American. Cesar recalls some of his memories in the farm as some of the most impacting saying, “In fact one of the three major influences in my life is my upbringing by my mother and dad and the kind of family we had.” pg. 17(Levy). To further prove that this was a major influence, the same influence that shaped his character for the person he would become, was how Cesar recalls some of his mother’s dichos or sayings, “She would say, “It takes two to fight.” That was her favorite. “It takes two to fight and one can’t do it alone.”” pg. 18(Levy). This was the perspective Chavez grew up with into in his adulthood. It’s also what made him take the same lessons to the broader perspective.
Even when attacked, Chavez preached to his people to not stoop to the same level as their oppressors, seeing that no blame could be put on the one who stands down. Many people were verbally and physically abused during the time of the movement, and although it only seemed right to fight back Cesar reminded them that every time there’s a conflict, it’s always the poor that end up losing. His ability to be able to play for the longer game and take actions in that manner is what made this movement more probable, than an approach of violence. Another one of Cesar’s approaches to the Chicano Civil Rights Movement was his implement of individual sacrifice for the benefit of the greater good. Eventually however, due to economic problems Cesar’s family was facing, and their problem with the land Cesar’s father was forced to move to California. Soon after this Cesar and the rest of the family followed along his father’s tracks. Like many others, Cesar’s father went to California in search of healing from the economic hit they suffered as a cause of the Great Depression. Like many others however, he suffered the same faith. Many people in search of job a were unaware that the best opportunities that they had was working in lands that were owned by corporations and by wealthy landowners who maintained their place by paying low wages and not providing proper sanitation or a safe work environment. At the age of thirteen, Chavez would start working in the farms where he would receive a first-hand experience of what he would try to improve in his years of adulthood. Like many other children workers he had to balance school and work which often led to many kids dropping out of of school and not obtaining their education. In some cases, children were entirely devoted to their work because only one provider at the low wages they were being paid wasn’t enough to maintain a household.
Cesar’s experiences helped him see that these environments weren’t fit for human beings and even less so for children. His actions would later not only improve the family’s life of many Mexican Americans but also provide educational opportunities to many children in later generations impacting beyond his own time. Cesar was able to see the potential of a large population and the need to explore this potential of a vast majority of low wage paid workers because he too at one point, was one of them. Cesar’s motivation for strikes and being active in civil rights organizations arose mainly from his father. Cesar recalls one of his father’s teachers which Cesar took to heart, “Our dignity meant more than money”. Pg. 78-79(Levy). Although as the name implies, civil rights leaders who fight for injustices aren’t acting for beneficial gain, but his memory of this quote emphasizes Cesar’s belief of doing what was just and not being condemned to being mistreated just for the sake of money. Every time someone was faced with something they though were wrong, Cesar and his family stood up and fought alongside them. If the people decided they would leave, Cesar’s family would follow them, thinking first of their actions and what they represented, and later of how they were going to bring money to the house. This mental morality that Chavez possessed of doing what he thought was right regardless of the situation, is what made Cesar come across Fred Ross. Fred Ross was the founder of the Community Service Organization or the CSO. Fred Ross appealed to Chavez because he knew what Mexican-American laborers were going through and saw firsthand, the hardships they faced. Also, he admired the way Ross used power to getting thing in motion, this was something Chavez adapted from him. Part of Cesar’s ideology was to do something to face injustice with nonviolence.
Chavez admired Ross because he saw the difference between nonviolence and inaction which Cesar believed was a problem that many people faced. “People equate nonviolence with inaction- with not doing anything- and it’s not that at all. It’s exactly the opposite.”, (Levy) said Chavez. After joining the CSO, Chavez earned much of his experience of organizing and leading through what he saw going on there. Thus, later putting this into good use during his time of leading the National Farm Workers Association or the NFWA. Chaves decided to resign from the CSO in March 31, 1962 after the board denied him the opportunity to organize the farm workers and help them out in their situation of mistreatment, because the board believed their efforts would be in vain without the assistance of The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations or the AFL-CIO. He believed in helping everyone and was unwilling to work alongside the people who were unwilling to act towards the benefit of others and help. After resigning from the CSO, Chavez decided to move to Delano with his family and immediately began organizing a group of Mexican-American farm workers. The initial task wasn’t easy because Chavez was alone at the time, and his method of recruiting involved him going from worker to worker to inform them about a better path. However, Chavez persevered, having a clear goal in mind, attempting to create the core foundation of the organization by recruiting enough people to later take it to greater extents.
Another instance of Cesar’s personality making him a perfect candidate for a civil rights leader, due to the demonstration of his humility shown through how he went from house to house recruiting alone because he believed spreading the message was his cause. Chavez chose Delano for its high concentrated area of migrant workers, and because he had family members that could help and provide for the organization. After much persistence using all the available tactics that he obtained while working in the CSO, Chavez had enough people to form the farmer’s union he desired. On September 1962, the people recruited met in Fresno to establish the NFWA with Chavez as the president of the association and Gill Padilla and Dolores Huerta as vice presidents. This was the first small step to what many people didn’t realize, was going to be a huge change for Mexican-American farm laborers. Chavez first sought to gain a stable amount of power by establishing a bigger organization before any strike would be considered. On 1965 however, the rose strike in McFarland, California peeked Chavez’s interest. Their difficult labor and the lack of money that they were being paid, despite being told their pay would be better, is what pushed Chaves to help them out. The strike was successful and raised the amount of pay for those workers. The real turning point of the union was when the head of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee or AWOC asked Cesar and his Union to join the grape strike. His constant commitment to helping others is what made him be exposed to this organization and their grape strike which proved to be the start of the great potential the NFWA had. In December 2nd, 1965 Chavez announced to his union that they will be participating in the grape strike.
During the grape strike Cesar Chavez put into effect many methods that would prove to be truly effective due to his knowledge of strikes and farm laborers. While in the process of the grape strikes Chavez used non-violent picket lines to stand in the farms to stop the farm workers who were not in the union yet from working. Their purpose was to spread the word to them about the fight for the injustices they were currently facing. They were looking for one of two outcomes, for the farm workers to stop picking grapes so the grapes couldn’t be sold, or for the people to join their cause after hearing there was a way to better their conditions. In some instances, the achieved both outcomes Another of Cesar’s methods to stunt the economy of the farm owners and make them aware that their cause was something serious and should be given attention was the picket lines in front of store. Non-violent as well, these pare picket lines got support from universities willing to act in their cause and received media coverage about the issue. The way the steps the NFWA, and in later occasions with Cesar’s fasting, took to achieve their goal of a better working condition and increased wages always seemed to have to have multiple outcomes. Not only did they achieve their initial goal, but they received media attention that only helped their cause strengthen. Another approach Cesar used was appealing to the culture of Mexican-Americans, something he was well informed of. He used Spanish- language radio shows to announce that a vigil would be held, and then proceeded to recruit the people that would show up. In one instance, after being advised by some women strikers, Cesar and his brother constructed a small alter behind a station wagon that people could use at any time. His knowledge of his people is what made him appeal to many Mexican-American workers, Also, as a Catholic- Roman he knew that a religious approach would also appeal to them, due through the communion that religion brought to Mexican- Americans. He took this idea to extremes when he used this method of using religion as a tool to appeal to get people to walk from Delano to Sacramento as a form of a religious walk or a pilgrimage. This extremity was also seen when he decided to fast on different occasions as a religious means of cleansing. Most importantly was the way he emphasized the incorporation of non-violence while taking religious approaches.
The way Cesar incorporated religion with nonviolence caused people to be less inclined to use violence in the first place, because they tied it up with something that was held very fond to them, which is something Cesar understood. However, strikers did face constant harm and harassment and had to fight the urge to not inflict the same harm. The farm workers were constantly pushed to points of wanting to change to a path of violence and although not everyone was strong enough to endure constant pain, it’s safe to say that Cesar and the ideas that he preached made the grape strikes controlled and his actions are what stopped it from spiraling into other things. Chavez’s walk to Sacramento from Delano was composed of 340 miles and was one of his most successful attempts to boycott grapes. The walk, march or pilgrimage constantly referred as many things depending on how people saw it, was successful because it was very well organized. Within the walk there was three groups, there were the ones who provided housing, food and support that stood at the very front of the march. Then the ones that followed after them were the ones who took care of the arrangements once they arrived to their various destinations. Lastly, were the people whose purpose was to represent their cause and helped informed the meaning of the march to obtain more followers. There was also monitors who kept the march intact and helped the march not get harmed or harm in any way that would disrupt their cause. The systematic and organization of such a large march that would take hundreds to later thousands of people from one place to another, took careful planning and experience that Cesar possessed.
The march helped achieve attention to the strike both to laborers who sought to make a difference and to people willing to boycott. This helped showed the lack of fear the farm workers had against the farm owners and added mass numbers to the union which was a representation of power. Although they may not be wealthy and owners of large territories, their quantity was in the people, and there were more farm workers than farm owners. The other major act that defines Cesar Chavez as a great leader was the ability to sacrifice himself in the needs of the many. During the strikes many of the workers started to grow weary of the non-violence rule issued by the union, because the side of the growers didn’t abide by these rules. Talk of violent attacks began to rise on the side of the Union and Chavez knew that the people were beginning to grow desperate, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. On February 15, 1968 he began fasting to cleanse himself both spiritually and mentally and to show his sacrifice for the people. One of the approaches that he decided to take that was not as effective, and thus led to his fasting, was a speech where he exposed the hypocrisy of those who were against the violence in the Vietnam War, but were willing to cause violence in their own towns. He also talked about how when a good cause turns to violence, it’s always the poor who suffer.
Cesar’s knowledge of current and past events showed the self-awareness of the position he was in and took decisions to benefit for the future rather than being manipulated by emotions of oppression and harm. He was able to see the true face of violence and how when the oppressed tried to fight back the same way they were being mistreated, it was always them that lost. He wanted Laborers to be seen as human beings, and in order to do so they had to act educated and civilized. If they decided to cause violence however, they would only give the farm owners an excuse to show how the farm workers acted irrationally and how their actions proved that they didn’t deserve to be paid more. Cesar’s fast lasted 25 days and although he suffered illness and faced a lack of support from some of his members and even family members he persevered. A character trait that was effective for Cesar before when he tried to recruit people for the NFWA and showed his dedication and lack of dependability to others. In reward to his effort and perseverance, he managed to stop any talk or actions of violence from the NFWA altogether. He also managed to achieve national attention to the grape strike, which was an unexpected outcome from his fasting. After seeing the success of his first fast Chavez decided to go on another fast to go against a law in Arizona against secondary boycotts, and to recall governor Jack Williams. His fast ended up failing the purpose it was supposed to serve but it achieved the registering of thousands of new voters who helped Latino and Native Americans to the State legislative. Cesar was more than just a great leader he was an astounding role model that was more than fit to lead something like the Chicano Civil Rights Movement.
His character was an impacting one that acted as an example for many Mexican Americans. He enforced a rule, that he developed and saw from many other successful civil rights leaders such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. He demonstrated that non-violence was the path to success and went against the common misconception that non-violence meant not taking action and showed that it meant the opposite altogether. He gained a great amount of support from people in his community and people who had a similar background as him and of the people who were fighting for their rights. Cesar had a sense of leadership that inspired many, enough to the point of getting them to act for the injustices many farm workers faced. His charismatic behavior was based on being a person on whom many could relate to, because he as well faced these similar injustices. Cesar was a preacher who recognized that words as well as actions were necessary to succeed in something of unlikely odds such as the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. The same movement that would have an everlasting impact of the way society viewed of Mexican-Americans. He was a visionary who was able to see the power that was possessed when many joined together to fight for the cause of something. He based his knowledge of this by seeing the effects of a similar movement caused by one of the people that inspired him the most, Gandhi.
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