Publication: San Antonio Express; Date: Mar 31, 2014; Section: Main; Page: A10


Let’s honor Chávez and his vision
By James C. Harrington

Timed for release on the anniversary of César Chávez’ birthday and the holiday named for him, the movie “César Chávez: History Is Made One Step at a Time” will show in theaters around the country. It premiered at the SXSW film festival in Austin earlier this month, attended by Dolores Huerta, his indomitable colleague, still active at 83. Also, being released on his birthday is a documentary by the University of Texas at San Antonio on his organizing efforts among Texas farm workers. Its first showing will be at the United Farm Workers hall in San Juan. Chávez, born in 1927, died in 1993. An outstanding Mexican-American leader, he dedicated his life to improving the wages and working conditions of one of the poorest and most exploited groups in the country, many of whom live in Texas. Chávez led the historic nonviolent movement for farm worker rights, motivating thousands who never worked in agriculture to commit themselves to social, economic and environmental justice and civil rights. And he helped grow leadership in the Hispanic community to throw off centuries of discrimination. His impact is reflected in the holiday designated for him in 11 states and in the parks, cultural centers, libraries, schools and streets that carry his name across Texas and the U.S. In Texas, his birthday is an optional state holiday. Chávez knew the hard life of farm laborers firsthand. He dropped out of school after eighth grade to work in the fields to help support his family. After serving in the Navy, he coordinated voter registration drives and campaigns against discrimination. In 1962, he helped found the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. Chávez led the first successful farm workers union in U.S. history and won industrywide labor contracts. The union helped achieve dignity, fair wages, medical coverage, pension benefits and humane working conditions for hundreds of thousands. He believed in the peaceful tactics of Mohandas Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: fasts, boycotts and strikes. When he died, more than 50,000 people of all walks of life marched in his funeral procession under the hot Delano, Calif., sun. Chávez’s influence on Texans extended far beyond the thousands of Texas farm laborers who worked as migrants in California. His efforts to open the doors of colleges and universities to the Hispanic community reached deep into Texas, and, in turn, opened to doors to economic and political opportunity. We revere him as a man who worked for equality, justice and dignity for all Americans, inspiring many others to do the same. The movie is worth seeing for that reason. In addition to honoring his legacy today, we should tell his narrative and re-commit ourselves to the struggle to make our country a better place for our children and grandchildren.

James C. Harrington is the founder and director of Texas Civil Rights Project, a nonprofit foundation that promotes civil rights and economic and racial justice throughout Texas. He worked with César Chávez for 18 years.