The Uncommon Man

March 29, 2007

Cesar Chavez - A Model of Men's Nonviolence

By: Emiliano Diaz de Leon

This column will appear in Saturdays issue of the San Benito News.

If you walk into my office at Casa de Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen, where I work as an Immigrant Rights Legal Advocate, you will see two posters – one of Emiliano Zapata and the other of Cesar Chavez. Both of these men struggled for the rights of the poor and oppressed and organized movements that changed society; however, the tactics they used to achieve this social change differed greatly. Today, on his birthday, I would like to reflect on the example of change set forth by Cesar Chavez.

Chavez once said:

Nonviolence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak…Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.

No one lived these words better than the man himself. Cesar Chavez modeled a deeper meaning of nonviolence, not just as a way of acting but as a basic principle of life. He realized that in order to change the world, he had to be willing to start with himself; therefore, in 1962, he resigned from his post of national director of the Community Service Organization and founded the United Farm Workers of America. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and the Southern Civil Rights movement, Chavez humbly led the union for more than three decades with nonviolence as the guiding tenet for all of his actions. Even in the face of violent attacks from landowners and growers, Chavez maintained his commitment to nonviolence, organizing and participating in successful strikes and boycotts, as well as fasting for nearly a month on several occasions to send a message to farm workers, who began to speak of responding in kind to the violent assaults against them. Chavez sacrificed personally, going days without eating, earning less than $6,000 a year, never owning a house, and leaving his family with no savings upon his death in April of 1993, but his sacrifice and dedication won fair wages, medical coverage, humane living conditions, and above all dignity and respect for farm workers. Cesar Chavez was an ordinary man who accomplished extraordinary feats, always believing que “sí se puede.”

LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero) has organized a march in memory of this extraordinary man for 9:30 AM today, beginning at Guajardo Park in San Juan and ending at the LUPE office with cultural activities. Through the work of LUPE, I see Chavez’s spirit of community and his passion in action. I praise them for their work and encourage others to walk in line with them, bringing to life the words of Cesar Chavez:

When you have people together who believe in something very strongly – whether it’s religion or politics or unions, things happen…We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.

In this time, when so much emphasis is placed on self-preservation and retaliation, may the words and legacy of Cesar Chavez inspire and challenge us all to become the peace we seek in our community and in the world.

Emiliano Diaz de Leon is the director of the Men's Resource Center of South Texas.

Posted by Daniel at March 29, 2007 12:12 PM


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