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This post was edited by Pleistocene at 2014-7-12 09:23|
Cesar Chavez–the Saint Unmasked
Jared Taylor, American Renaissance, June 27, 2014
A new, critical biography tells all.
‘The Crusades of Cesar Chavez,’ by Miriam Pawel
Cesar Chavez is the closest thing Hispanics have to Martin Luther King. There are countless streets, schools, and student centers named after him, and his birthday is a state holiday in California, Texas, and Colorado. In 1994, President Bill Clinton posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2003 the Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor. The Navy named a cargo ship for him. Barack Obama shamelessly stole his slogan Si, se puede “Yes, we can” to use as a campaign slogan, and added the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument to the national park system in 2012.
Official adulation can only grow, as the number of Hispanics grows. All that’s left to do is declare a national holiday on the great man’s birthday, and it’s hard to imagine anything that could stop that–except perhaps this new biography by Miriam Pawel.
Miss Pawel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and editor, is the ideal biographer. She has researched her subject exhaustively. She writes well. She presents her findings objectively and does not pass judgment–so I will: Anyone who reads this book can only conclude that Cesar Chavez was a deceitful, foul-mouthed, philandering, sociopathic egomaniac who pretended to be a saint. And, yes, he had an unusual capacity to attract and inspire people, and worked very hard to start a farm workers union. Only a unique combination of circumstances could have made a hero out of this gifted but odious man: America’s compulsion to throw itself at the feet of non-white figureheads and the relentless liberalism of the 1960, ’70s, and ’80s.
On both sides of his family, Chavez was descended from what would today be called illegal immigrants. His grandparents on his father’s side crossed the border from Mexico in 1898 and settled in Arizona. His mother was brought over as a six-month old in 1892.
Chavez was born in 1927 and grew up in Yuma, Arizona, on land that belonged to his grandfather, who was a moderately successful businessman. The Chavezes were not wealthy, but they kept a cow and a horse, and had so many chickens they gave away eggs. Cesar grew up with a younger brother, Richard, who would be a close collaborator his whole life.
Chavez’s father, Librado, piddled away the family businesses and fell behind on property taxes. In 1930, the state of Arizona gave him seven years to pay up. Nine years later, when Chavez was 12, the taxes were still in arrears, and the state auctioned the property. The buyer kindly let the family stay in the house for several months until the end of the school year. Later, when Chavez was fashioning himself as a doughty Latino fighting for justice, he claimed that arrogant Anglos had cheated his father and driven him off his land.
The family moved to California, but Librado was lazy, and Cesar’s parents scraped by as farm hands. Miss Pawel writes that at that time workers had to stoop to use an 18-inch hoe called el cortito. Foremen looked down the lines of workers, and if anyone stood up to rest his back he was immediately ordered back to work. There were no privies; women used their skirts to protect each other’s privacy.
Cesar was a mediocre student, and in 1942 he graduated from junior high and went to work in the fields. Miss Pawel says that he had attended about a dozen schools, but later claimed to have attended 57. In 1946, Chavez joined the Navy and spent two years repairing ships that had been damaged during the war. Later, he claimed to have joined in 1944 so he could tell people he had gone to war.
In 1948, at age 21, he was back in the fields with his brother Richard. That year, he married his five-months-pregnant girlfriend, Helen. He and Richard later got jobs as stock handlers in a lumber yard, which was a step up from farm work. By 1953, Chavez was living in a small, wood-frame house in a poor, Hispanic ghetto in San Jose, California. He was 26 years old and had five small children.
In 1952, Chavez met a man who changed his life, a white community organizer named Fred Ross. Ross, who was funded and supported by the famous Saul Alinsky, had started something called the Community Service Organization (CSO), based in Los Angeles. Its purpose was to increase the power of poor Hispanics, mainly by registering them to vote.
Ross started a CSO branch in San Jose, where he set up a series of “house meetings,” in which he persuaded someone to invite all his friends for an organizing session. Cesar and Richard were skeptical of any gringo who claimed to want to help Mexicans, but Cesar agreed to host a meeting. Ross was impressed by Cesar’s intensity and apparent drive, and Cesar was immediately hooked on organizing.
Later, Chavez would claim he was recruited right out of the fields to become an organizer. He kept his job with the lumber company, but spent nights and weekends registering Hispanic voters. Ross introduced him to activist Catholic priests–Anglos who explained to him the importance of unionizing farm workers, and persuaded him that the church could be an important ally. Chavez had never been an active Catholic, but for the rest of his career he used churchmen, both Catholic and Protestant, very effectively to promote his causes.
Chavez was laid off from the lumberyard and collected unemployment while he worked full-time for the CSO. Ross eventually got money from Alinsky to pay Chavez a small salary to run a “problem clinic,” where he registered Hispanics to vote, fought deportation orders, filled out immigration forms, and tracked down citizenship papers. He started setting up new CSO chapters, and wherever he went he took letters of introduction to local priests.
Chavez was a short man, physically unimpressive, and did not speak well either in English or Spanish, but he had a single-minded intensity that impressed people. Ross–who referred to Mexico as his “spiritual home”–realized he had a star pupil, and tutored him on all aspects of community organizing. Chavez inspired people with his sacrifice and dedication, and began to attract volunteers. He always had work for them, even if he had to make it up.
Chavez and the CSO regarded illegal immigrants with disdain, and did not complain when Operation Wetback rounded up and deported hundreds of thousands of Mexicans in 1954. The bracero program, which brought in immigrants at harvest time, was still operating, but growers were supposed to hire braceros only if no Americans were available. Many growers preferred to hire docile Mexicans over legal residents, and one of Chavez’s early farm jobs was to call in federal agents to chase away the braceros.
In 1959, Chavez become a national director for the CSO, and continued to run problem clinics. About that time he met Dolores Huerta, his most famous sidekick, who stuck with him to the end, and continues to promote him as a saint. She was the one exception to his rule that women are good only for secretarial and drudge work. As he explained, women were “made for this kind . . . [of] tedious work.”
In 1962, after 10 years, Chavez left the CSO. Miss Pawel writes that years later, he claimed he left because the CSO ignored farm workers. In fact, the CSO board had just voted to make organizing farm workers one of its priorities.
Miss Pawel explains the real reasons Chavez left the CSO. One was a personality kink he appears to have had all his life: a contempt for the middle class and for poor Hispanics who wanted to join it. In his CSO work, he was disgusted by members who got what they wanted–be it citizenship, better wages, or a pension–and then dropped out of the organization. He claimed to despise materialism–he seems to have had no desire for personal wealth–and this was part of his appeal. Yet, in a riddle that Miss Pawel does not explain, he saw no irony in working endless hours to advance the most materialistic concerns: higher wages and better working conditions. Later, he would say repeatedly that he wanted to run a movement, not a union, and though he was never sure just what that movement would be, in his mind it always had strong elements of sacrifice and self-denial.
The other reason is that Chavez was fascinated by power and wanted to be the boss. He read Machiavelli, and studied how Hitler and Mao had used power. He admired Gandhi’s ability to exercise non-political power. “Everything you deal with in the movement is about power,” he once explained.
It was at this point, when Chavez left the CSO, that he accomplished something genuinely remarkable. Essentially single-handedly, he built a union for people who had never had one. Others were doing the same thing, but he achieved a lot more with a lot less.
In 1962, Chavez left the CSO and moved to Delano, California. He was 35 years old, had eight children, no job, and $1,200 in savings. However, he knew he would not starve, since two of his wife’s sisters lived in Delano, as did his brother Richard, who was a successful carpenter. He filed for unemployment and made sure he never got a job offer.
At that time, the AFL-CIO was also trying to start a farm union, and had set up the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) as a first step. Chavez was afraid to compete openly with AWOC, so he travelled the San Joaquin Valley, claiming to be taking a census of farm workers. Often, when he told people he was not being paid, they gave him food and gas money. Ross also sent money, and he got support from a protestant organization called the California Migrant Ministry. Its head, Chris Hartmire, gave Chavez crucial early support and stuck by him for many years.
In 1962, Chavez held the first convention of what he called the Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers Association (UFW). This was when he introduced the union symbol: a black Aztec eagle on a red and white background. Chavez chose that color scheme because he admired the visual impact of the Nazi swastika.
The first meeting attracted about 150 workers, who agreed to pay $3.50 a month in dues. In return, they got small life insurance policies, and loans from a simple credit union for which Richard Chavez raised capital by mortgaging his house.
In the press release announcing the union, Chavez shaded the truth, as usual, claiming that he supported his family by working in the fields from 6 am to 2 pm. “The rest of the day and half the night Cesar devotes to organizing.” In fact, he rarely did farm work, the union had voted him a modest salary, and he had plans for other income.
Miss Pawel points out that by the 1960s, farm workers had already attracted national attention. Many people watched Edward R. Murrow’s 1960 television program, Harvest of Shame, and exploitation of field hands was being compared to the oppression of blacks. Congress responded by killing the bracero program in 1964; this reduced the labor supply and put upward pressure on wages.
In April 1965, Chavez was still peddling life insurance and running a “problem clinic” when rival AWOC called a strike that forced him to follow suit. AWOC, whose members were almost all Filipinos, was striking table-grape growers, and UFW workers went on strike in sympathy. Chavez played hard ball from the start. Union members set up picket lines in the fields and shouted abuse at strike breakers. They picketed the houses of strikebreakers.
Hartmire’s Migrant Ministry put its staff of 12 to work for the strike, and its ministers wrote Chavez’s speeches and pamphlets. Three months into the strike, the AFL-CIO decided to give the UFW $5,000 a month as long as the strike lasted, and Walter Reuther brought the press corps to Delano to publicize the strike. A talented playwright named Luis Valdez started Teatro Campesino (Peasant Theater), which performed pro-union skits on a flat-bed truck that could be driven into the fields. Senator Robert Kennedy toured the fields with Chavez.
Farm workers had become the new liberal pets, and Chavez began to attract idealistic young whites. As the strike wore on, workers stopped picketing and went on to other jobs, so hippies from Berkeley took their place. A white volunteer edited the AFW newspaper. Chavez liked to claim that “none of our staff is salaried but we provide a floor to sleep on and three meals a day,” even though he and a number of key personnel got modest salaries.
The growers–second- and third-generation Italian, Sicilian, and Slav immigrants rather than haughty “Anglo” exploiters–found replacement workers, and managed to keep their businesses going. Chavez needed new tactics to break the growers, and decided to send volunteers to cities all over the country to persuade consumers to boycott California grapes. He got Hispanics who worked for the growers to smuggle out company strategy. He also had volunteers follow the trucks from the farms, so they could set up pickets to prevent unloading the grapes. Women who packed the grapes pricked them with needles so they would rot before they got to market.
Chavez preened himself on Gandhi-like civil disobedience, but looked the other way while his cousin Manual Chavez organized teams to burn down grape storage sheds, destroy irrigation pumps, and hack down mature vines. They smashed the refrigeration units on the train cars that kept grapes cool on their way to market. Publicly, Chavez condemned violence, but years later, he said of his cousin Manual: “He’s done all the dirty work for the union. There’s a lot of f*cking dirty work, and he did it all.”
During the strike, Chavez imitated the black civil rights movement by staging a march. He led followers the 245 miles from Delano to the state capitol in Sacramento, carrying images of the Virgin of Guadeloupe, Mexico’s patron saint. Catholic priests blessed the marchers, and the media obliged with sympathetic coverage.