This past weekend, the citizens of
California celebrated the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the founder
of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and farm worker activist.
Actually, it was the state employees who honored him by
taking a paid day off of work.
Ironically, the farmers and field workers who Chavez
allegedly fought for still had to go to work.
This holiday alone is a ridiculous
idea...honoring someone by taking a day off of work, while
"his people" are still out in the fields.
But even worse are the misconceptions and disputed
accomplishments of Cesar Chavez.
Throughout California, many growers and
farmers strongly dispute the extent of Chavez's deeds and
challenge the UFW's contentions that Chavez improved the
conditions of farm workers. The idea that he was a great man who is worthy of a state
holiday is simply ludicrous.
To begin with, it is hard to believe that
Chavez was the spokesperson for the farm workers' of California
because it is difficult to find a farm worker who has anything
good to say about him or the UFW.
In fact, when the bill to make Chavez's birthday into a
state holiday was being voted on by the legislature, the only
known lobbying done by actual farmer workers was a petition
signed by 400 Latino farm laborers who requested a
"no" vote. This petition that was sent to legislators said:
"We are farm workers.
We are of Mexican heritage.
We are now Americans and Californians.
We are taxpayers. ...Cesar Chavez may have accomplished some good things for
some people but he is no hero for us.
The UFW has never represented a majority of
California farm laborers and many who did belong to the union
voted to disassociate themselves from Chavez's union. It is
probable that they left the union because of its history of
intimidation of farm laborers, violence toward illegal immigrant
workers and a boycott strategy based on a pesticide hoax that
cost thousands of farm workers their jobs.
The more than 2000 pages of declassified
FBI files on Chavez show a lengthy investigation of communist
activity and reveal many incidents of violence directed against
growers and farm workers who were reluctant to vote for a UFW
contract. The FBI
files and press accounts describe beatings, overturned cars,
throwing Molotov cocktails, torching fields, and other such
Yet even more disturbing was the way that
the UFW treated any threat to potential UFW farm jobs,
especially women and undocumented Mexican workers.
In 1997, forty female UFW members filed a lawsuit against
the union for its alleged practice of urging female members to
use sex as a recruiting tool.
Also, in the mid 1980's, Chavez's brother, Manuel, was
the head of an effort to attack illegal workers crossing the
border into Arizona—with his brother's blessing.
According to the Village Voice, UFW thugs manned the
border area, known to UFW as "the Wet Line."
Former Yuma County sheriff Travis Yancey stated,
“they'd catch any 'wet' coming through and beat the hell out
of them." Also, in the 1970s Chavez became a follower of a group called
Synanon, long thought by observers to be a cult that had on
occasion used violence and intimidation to silence its enemies. Through all of this, and who knows what else, many people
still mistake Chavez for being a peaceful man.
Indeed, on the Assembly floor just this last Thursday,
Assemblyman Tony Cardenas said, "Cesar Chavez fought with
his mind and his heart and not with his fists."
Yet another much forgotten fact is that
Chavez misused hundreds of thousands in both federal and state
dollars. He would
apply for grants to help farm workers, but use them for other
purposes instead. In 1980 the UFW was audited by the General Accounting Office
and found them to be in massive violation of Federal guidelines.
So, on my paid day off I could not think of
any better way to protest than to go into work anyway and write
an article on how bad this state holiday is.
I am all for helping the hard working farmers and field
workers in California, but there must be a much better way to do
it than by paying state employees to take a day off and honoring
a man who did more bad than good.
Amy Krause is legislative
director for a California State Assemblyman.
The Fight in the Fields: Cesar
Chavez and the Farmworkers Movement
by Susan Ferriss, Ricardo Sandoval
With These Hands: The Hidden
World of Migrant Farmworkers Today
Flags of Our Fathers
by James Bradley
the Web for:
Free Online Games