Thursday, March 31, 2005

Si se puede - it can be done!

Though it is probably years away (and I don't want them to grow up too fast), I find myself looking forward to the time when my kids start to explore the history of our nation and the larger world. I want to tell them the stories I know about the leaders and times of the past. I imagine sitting around the dinner table, delving into fascinating discussions of significant events, the historical impact of the people who shaped them, and the lessons we can learn from the past. One of the people I will be sure to mention is Cesar Chavez.

Cesar Chavez was born 78 years ago today. As a kid, he worked the fruit and vegetable fields of California to help support his family. During World War II he served in the US Navy. After leaving the service, he returned once again to the hard life of a migrant worker. In the early 1950s he met a Catholic priest who was teaching workers about organizing and social justice. He began to seriously study labor issues, Catholic Social Teaching on human and workers' rights, and the use of non-violence to promote positive change. He began working with the Community Service Organization (CSO) in 1952 and was soon a full-time organizer. The CSO was a project of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).*

He went on to found the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers union. Chavez fought to end discrimination against and improve working conditions for farm workers and others for more than 40 years. His work directly impacted and improved the lives of thousands of people.

I haven't the space here to do adequate justice to Chavez, but he remains someone whose experiences will provide a valuable lesson for my children someday. Lessons of freedom and justice and the power of organized people.

More about Cesar Chavez:
Si Se Puede -- The Legacy of Cesar Chavez (Dick Meister/ILCA)
The Chavez Legacy (University of Texas)

*This is my humble connection with Chavez, as I am honored to be one of the leaders of our local IAF affiliate, Action In Montgomery (AIM).

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