In case you missed it, today is César Chávez Day.
While a portion of us, namely those working for the city of Phoenix, can rest and relax on the observed holiday tomorrow, most don’t really know much about the man or why he’s so special to get his very own holiday in the first place.
Starting things off, I happen to be a relative of Chávez. Albeit a little distant, but a blood relative nonetheless.
He was my grandfather’s cousin, to make things simple. Related by my mom’s birth father, Manny Chávez, also César’s right-hand man during the start of United Farm Workers. I can’t help but think about how my roots trace back to a positive impact in the lives of Mexican-Americans like myself.
César was born in Yuma, where dozens of my relatives currently live. In 1962, César founded what was later called United Farm Workers, along with fellow activist Dolores Huerta. Growing up as a migrant farm worker himself, working in the fields through parts of California, César’s union eventually resulted in great improvements for farm workers and their work environment.
“The man did well, I was friends with a lot of the workers and they were able to get health insurance, better pay and working conditions,” said my grandmother, Angie.
Manny, who was Angie’s first husband, left her and her three kids just as the movement for farm workers was getting off the ground. Though some historical reports floating around paint the picture of the union using violence in the early days for boycotters and picketers, some of which my grandma confirmed, she still chooses to see the bigger picture.
“Like in everything else, you have a few sour grapes,” she said. “Later on, I came to understand that the union’s positive efforts were good for the people.”
As this holiday lands itself around Easter and April Fool’s Day, both of which should definitely be celebrated, I can’t help but feel a dichotomy of pride and indifference about my bloodline.
With this I could choose the sour route, be bitter at my maternal grandfather for leaving his family and possibly leading union workers in violence, or I can take a different route.
Without him leaving, my grandmother would never have met her second husband, who was easily the most loving, caring and the best grandfather anyone could ever hope for. Without the union and César’s vision for dignifying farm workers and laborers around the country, their poor and unsafe working conditions would have continued.
That’s the route I’d like to take this year.
We all have a story, a family history. Some parts might be unpleasant. But in the over arching story, they play their own vital role, knitting the pieces together.
So during your Easter egg hunts, parades with the community, church services, and even some practical jokes on Monday, let’s also set a little slice of time aside to remember that distant, great uncle of mine.
My grandma would want you to.
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