To the Editor…

by on April 8, 2013

Re: National Media Ignoring Cesar Chavez Day is No April Fool’s Joke

The piece National Media Ignoring Cesar Chavez Day is no April Fool’s Joke takes an interesting angle on pushing for the elevation of public opinion of Cesar Chavez through a comparison with the 30th president, Calvin Coolidge. While this is a novel way of increasing appreciation for Chavez, the comparison with Coolidge leads the article to focus on devaluing Coolidge rather than magnifying Chavez’s accomplishments, and thus it does not effectively increase awareness and appreciation of Chavez in the most tangible way.
The article touches on the importance of Chavez pioneered grassroots outreach strategies for the election of President Obama, and yet for a reader unfamiliar with the fact that Chavez was indeed responsible for these grassroots strategies, including his origination of Obama’s “Yes We Can” motto, more information about how Chavez employed these techniques would have been both appropriate and informative. For instance, Chavez’s history as a field worker led to his decision to join the Community Service Organization (CSO), the Latino civil rights organization that became the point of origin of Chavez’s rallying cry. It was his involvement in the CSO that led Chavez on the path of mobilizing farm workers, drawing upon Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals of nonviolent protest, and beginning Chavez’s legacy began as a respected leader. He continued upholding these values of pacifism when he became the leader of the United Farm Workers Union, employing fasting, processions, and prayer to establish the right of migrant farmworkers to bargain for their rights.
Chavez convinced the members of his union to boycott working for the California grape owners, establishing himself both as a preeminent leader and an effective organizer. This movement became known as La Causa and thus what we now know as grass-roots organizing began, as Chavez spoke with reporters, college students, and other members of the public to give donations to and work as volunteers for the cause of farmworker rights. Through this method of activism, on July 30, 1970 the California grape workers signed a contract with the union, allowing for the workers to receive higher wages, health insurance, and other rights.
The article briefly touches on Google using a Cesar Chavez doodle on their home page for March 31st, and makes the thought-provoking comment that “national media…wrongly sees Chavez as a 1960s-era relic whose achievements should be confined to history museums.” The use of Chavez as a Google icon notably connects to the comment of the national media’s wrongful perception of Cesar Chavez due to the public and national media reaction following the use of Chavez as a Google icon. Fox News, The LA Times, The Huffington Post, and the Politico all wrote articles commentating on reactions towards the use of the icon, most mentioning that the Google icon courted a religious backlash and incited controversy among religious groups who believed that Google should have chosen to honor the Easter holiday instead.
Much of the backlash against the use of Chavez as the Google icon also stemmed from confusion as to who Chavez exactly was; reactions posted on Twitter and Facebook showed that some of the confusion stemmed from people confusing Cesar Chavez with Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president. This confusion reveals a continuing lack of public knowledge of Cesar Chavez that needs to be addressed. Despite President Obama’s proclamation last year declaring March 31st Cesar Chavez day, which led to Google displaying the doodle, other outlets need to exist for disseminating information on Chavez, including national media as the article mentions.

One outlet that was not discussed and that could be fundamental for distributing information to the younger population is Latino studies classes. Recently, controversy sprung from efforts made in Tucson, Arizona to eliminate ethnic studies classes, classes that very likely included lessons on Cesar Chavez. Considering that Tucson and Yuma, the birthplace of Chavez, are separated by only 240 miles, the fact that ethnic studies classes were overall eliminated from Tucson is an abominable misfortune that needs to be continually readdressed in the media in order to bring the ethnic studies classes back.

Overall, a discussion of Calvin Coolidge’s lack of relevance seems somewhat pointless without a deeper discussion of what Cesar Chavez’s accomplishments were in comparison as well as mentioning what Coolidge’s accomplishments or attempted accomplishments were and why they were not as impressive. Chavez’s legacy as a leader has continued both due to his accomplishments as well as due to his general approach in pursuing justice for farmworkers. Chavez lived in voluntary poverty in order to empathize ever further with the group that he was working for and he taught the merits of organization to a disenfranchised group that had not previously understood what it meant to organize. It is this legacy that needs to be emphasized, in accounts posted in national media sources, blog posts, as well as in ethnic studies classes that do need to be taught, both in Arizona and other states, as Hispanic Americans continue to constitute the fastest growing group in the United States, accounting for more than half of the nation’s population growth over the last decade.

Hiruni Amarasekara

Filed under: Letters to the Editor