By Randy De La O
After my own father, there are few men in this world, that I have personally met, that I truly look up to as heroic. Cesar Chavez was such a man. I remember listening to the evening news during the 1960's and listening to the struggles of Chavez and the United Farm Workers. I remember wondering what could drive a man to hurt himself, damage his body for a cause, as he did during his long fast, in his attempt to bring the struggles of the farm workers into the American consciousness. To this day it is still hard to fathom. Even as a young teen, I was aware that Cesar Chavez was someone special, someone deserving of our respect. Whether or not you agreed with his views, whether you are liberal of conservative, you would be hard pressed not to respect his dedication to his own beliefs. He never left the struggle. He remained living in the same small home with his wife, that he had lived in for years. He never commercialized his life, he never sold out to those that believed in him. It is important to me that Chavez is recognized as an American first and foremost, and this was how he presented the farm workers, as Americans deserving of better, deserving of respect.
My son Andrew and I were fortunate enough to meet this great man in 1992, about a year before his death in April of 1993. My friend Tim Rodriguez was the manager of Valdez bookstore in Uptown Whittier and gave me a heads up on Chavez' book signing, knowing how I felt about Chavez. It remains a moment in my life that I will never forget. Andrew and I had a chance to have a personal conversation with him, as he told us about the problems facing the farm workers. He was such a humble man, it belied his accomplishments, and he was surprised at the importance that Andrew and I put in meeting him and shaking his hand. He gave me a UFW flag that he personally signed for me, as well as a video that showed the results of harmful pesticides in vegetables grown in central California.
"I come here today to honor you for the long and patient commitment you have made to this struggle for justice. And, I come here to say that we will fight together to achieve for you the aspirations of every American: decent wages, decent housing, decent schooling, a chance for yourselves and your children. You stand for justice and I am proud to stand with you. Viva la causa!"-- Robert F. Kennedy, 1968