Sunday, April 18, 2021
‘Hailing Cesar’-‘God Help Us Be Men’
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Josiah Cerventes was among those honoring Cesar Chavez, who was 66 when he died in 1993.
   
Saturday, March 27, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Eduardo Chavez grew up a son of privilege in a suburb of San Francisco—one of the wealthiest enclaves in the nation.

His father, a lawyer, introduced him to golf at a young age, and young Chavez spent two years playing pro golf.  But, always, there was the specter of his grandfather—Cesar Chavez—over his shoulder.

Eduardo’s father—one of Cesar’s eight children--did not talk about growing up as the son of a man who  fought for better working conditions for farmworkers. And, so, Eduardo always felt conflicted when people gushed over the fact that he was the grandson of Cesar Chavez.

 
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Cesar Chavez founded United Farm Workers of America in his effort to make life better for the three million farmworkers in the United States.
 

He knew of his grandfather from street signs bearing his name, from a holiday promoting community service that had been established in his honor and from murals in Los Angeles.

But his grandfather, who had died when he was a toddler, did not seem real.

“I remember walking through the Mission District in San Francisco and seeing this massive mural of my grandfather with Dr. (Martin Luther) King,” he recounted. “I knew him as my grandfather, my father’s father. But I realized there was a big and important legacy he left behind that I knew nothing about.”

Eduardo decided to learn about the civil rights activist who had posthumously become a folk saint in the eyes of many Mexican Americans.

 
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The procession through the streets of Ketchum brought participants from as far away as Gooding, Burley and Twin Falls.
 

He brought “Hailing Cesar,” the documentary he’d made of his personal journey of discovery to the Wood River Valley this week. It was part of an effort that involved a couple showings of the movie, an art show by an artist who has painted murals of Cesar Chavez and a march honoring Chavez’s legacy.

Local activist Herbert Romero decided to organize the event after his then-10-year-old son Herbert Romero Jr. was assigned to write about “Who is your hero?” for his fourth-grade class. As Romero suggested his son research Cesar Chavez, he realized that young people don’t know about Chavez.

“I was fortunate enough to attend Cesar Chavez’s funeral along with 40,000 other people,” he said. “Wow! Cesar Chavez had a legacy of empowerment, of fighting for the underprivileged. He taught me that it’s not just about talking but about taking action. He taught how to negotiate, and we really need to do that more. Now, we want to inspire young people with his legacy.”

Eduardo showed the film and spoke to high school students in a Zoom conversation organized by the Wood River High School’s Nosotros Unidos club. Organizers thought maybe 30 or 40 students would watch it. More than 500 did.

 
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Eduardo Chavez talks about his grandfather, who famously said, “Only by giving our lives do we find life.”
 

The march through Ketchum’s streets brought out about three dozen people, despite it being Spring Break. Among them, Andrea Ruiz, who wanted her siblings to know of Cesar Chavez’s legacy, and Lynea who oversees Bloom Farm and the Hope Garden for The Hunger Coalition.

“We’ve got to show up for people,” said Petty. “We need to show up for our neighbors, find common ground.”

 Eduardo Chavez said his father suggested that he needed to work in the grape fields if he really wanted to understand his grandfather. And, so, he did. He learned that cutting grapes is all in the hand—“a pulling motion.” And he woke up the morning after his first day, his lower back, legs and even toes “super sore.”

“Doing this for hours is unfathomable,” he realized.

 
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Cesar Chavez’s “Si Se Puede” or “Yes We Can” has become a battle cry for many over the years, including President Barack Obama.
 

But, in the course of spending a week in the fields and visiting Delano, a little town “in the middle of nowhere California” where his grandfather chose to make his first stand, Cesar Chavez became real to his grandson.

Eduardo learned how his grandfather, who had been born in Yuma, Ariz., grew up the son of migrant workers who followed the crops in California and lived in roadside tents after they lost their home in Great Depression. He dropped out of school after eighth grade to work in the fields, spent a couple years in the Navy during World War II, then returned to the fields.

He found his calling among the grapes, organizing a five-year strike against California’s grape growers and leading a 340-mile march to the state capitol in Sacramento, eventually securing the first farmworkers’ contracts in history.

 His legacy of nonviolence has been compared to Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and included three hunger strikes to bring national attention to his cause.

“The truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice,” Chavez said following the first hunger strike. “To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us be men.”

Eduardo said his father told him how President Lyndon Johnson offered Cesar Chavez an opportunity to head up the Peace Corps in Latin America. It would have meant good schools for his children, good food and a comfortable living.

But each family member voted “Stay,” except for one child. “I voted to go because I’m tired of eating potatoes every day and I want my own bedroom,” the lone dissenter said.

Eduardo Chavez said he learned through making the documentary that the real cost of our food isn’t printed on the labels.

“I didn’t understand how important my grandfather’s work was to this country. Now I think how cool is it to be two generations removed from this man,” he said.

Chavez said he hoped that his film would inspire Latino viewers to understand that their voice is important and that their cultural differences, the different language they speak at home and the different foods they eat are where their power lies.

He said that a 13-year-old told him of his excitement at seeing farmworkers like his parents on the screen. Some college students have joined groups like those that support DACA rights after seeing the film.

“My mom said who your grandfather is doesn’t make you better than anyone else. But there is a moral obligation to honor him by trying to be a virtuous person. He set an example for humanity that includes being humble and following your passions,” he said. “His story is like that of many other great humanitarian leaders—they’re moral figures we can look up to. And we can try to implement some things from their lives.”

Chavez said he is making a second documentary—this one giving names and faces to undocumented workers.

“Any human being who works an honest day’s work to provide for their families—that’s the American ideal. Or so they say it is. Having to be in the shadows, fearing that you’ll get taken away—that’s  inhumane.”

 

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