For many, in particular the working poor, César Chávez was a leader without peer
April 24, 1993
By Yolanda Reynolds “
Photos by Mary J. Andrade
Chavez died in his sleep Thursday night, April 22nd in Yuma, Arizona, where he was born sixty-six years ago.
Tears are the first reaction upon hearing it the news of his death. César Chávez, field worker whose struggle for justice for the poor, in particular the farm worker, became world renowned for his work on their behalf.
Chávez organized the farm workers into the powerful United Farm Worker Union (UFM).
The UFW did bring about improved working conditions for the itinerant worker. The UFW also attacked hazardous working conditions and was successful in the ban of the use of many toxic chemicals in me ﬁelds.
The Union under the Reagan/Bush Administration had declined in power as their strength was eroded by an ever increasing ﬂow of cheap labor and a less than enthusiastic oversight, by the government, of worker abuse.
According to UFW headquarters in Delano, Chávez the founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America AFL-CI0, was in Yuma helping UFW attorneys defend the union in a trial brought against the UFW by Bruce Church Inc., a Salinas-based vegetable producer.
After the trial recessed at about 3 p.m. Thursday, César spent the afternoon driving through the Hispanic neighborhoods in Yuma where he grew up.
He arrived about 6 p.m. at the San Luis, Arizona home of Dona María Hau, a former farm worker. César and eight other UFW officers and staff were staying there.
César ate dinner at around 9 pm. and presided over a brief meeting on the day’s events. He was described as being in good spirits, although he complained about feeling some weakness when doing his evening exercises.
César went to bed at about 10 or 10.30 p.m. David Martínez, the union’s secretary-treasurer, said he saw a reading light shining from Cesar’s room. The light was on all night.
When he had not arisen at 9 a.m., Martinez entered his bedroom found he had died, apparently, according to authorities, in his sleep at around 11:00 p.m.
Of Chavez, Father Mateo Sheedy, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, says, “He was able to bring together for many a sense of struggle for justice, a dream for peace and an expression of faith. He was able to see the relationship and inter-relationship of all these things.”
Sheedy adds. “I learned from him” a respect for people of different beliefs and to respect even those on the other side — on whatever issue of the moment. Chávez always reminded us that victory was not worth violence and that violence was not a means to a just end or to peace. To spill blood or to take life for the victory is not a victory – it destroys. Chávez would say, the possibility of coming together to build a new society.”
Sheedy explained that the motivation for César Chávez’ work was deeply spiritual and had everything to do with his faith. He had a commitment to follow his beliefs in his private life as well.
Blanca Alvarado, Vice Mayor of San Jose expressed her sorrow for the news. “Like everybody else, I am very sad,” she said. “Through his novel cause to support the farm workers, he unified all of us. In his death, he will also unify us. We must continue the work he was committed to.”
City Councilman George Shirakawa said about Chávez’s death: “This is selfish but this is a great loss to our community. He fought for all the workers, especially for the farm workers, with great dignity and humility.”
Chavez was scheduled to be in San Jose April 29, at the Loma Prieta Room, Student Union, at Stan Jose State University, to discuss “The Crisis Facing the Farm Workers and Consumers: Social Justice in the Workplace.” He was the guest of the Institute for Social Responsibility in the College of Humanities in the Arts at San Jose State University.
A Mass was offered at 9;00 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church in his memory, where he was a frequent visitor. He was there early last year to assist in the in the struggle for the “Justice for Janitors,” when the janitors went on strike against Silicon Valley Fortune 500 Companies for improved working conditions and increased pay.
Final funeral arrangements had not been made at the time “La Oferta” went to press. © La Oferta Newspaper.