The Diary of Joaquín Magón Entry 11: Remembering César
I never met César. The opportunity to shake his hand or hear him speak in person is not one that I had. But I don’t need to. I know him. I feel like I know him. I’ve walked with him in this struggle and his wisdom is ever present in the molecules that compose our strength.
I identify with the dream he had and the struggle he started. This, in essence, is what remains of him. In my time working with the United Farm Workers I have met so many people. Most are farm workers that didn’t even know who César was until recently. But they live the struggle that César and Dolores Huerta started.
So this is how I honor and remember a man of great strength, passion, and intelligence. Not through a personal story about how I shook his hand or that I remember the exact hour, spot, day, etc., when he said hello; but, rather, through organizers that never met him either but know his dream and continue what he started.
Gustavo is a UFW organizer from Oaxaca who worked in the fields for 18 years. He found out about César in1994 after César had just passed away.
“I was in a town called Salinas and they didn’t want to give me work. The foreman mentioned something about César Chávez and I didn’t know what he was talking about…By coincidence, and I remember this like it was yesterday, I was driving and I turned on my radio…they were announcing that César Chávez had just passed away. I thought to myself ‘wow the foreman had just mentioned César Chávez.’ But I thought he was talking about Julio Cesar Chavez the boxer. That’s how I first learned about César Chávez.”
Gustavo, like so many other workers from Oaxaca is victim to discrimination for being indigenous. However, his smile feels as eternal as his struggle, his struggle as eternal as his wisdom.
“You look at the price of the strawberry box and you know that most of that money is going towards the boss. The money doesn’t go towards the worker and it’s not just us but our children. Sometimes it’s embarrassing going out because your child will ask you for a toy or, you know, a childhood, or even food, and you don’t make enough to give to them; sometimes it’s best to not even go out.”
He says that he knows now how things are. Before he wouldn’t have raised his voice but now he knows that the workers deserve better. It’s through this struggle that Gustavo connects with César.
“Those who don’t dream will not achieve anything; much less if you wait for someone to do it for you. Chávez did many incredible things. He did a hunger strike. What I’m doing right now isn’t at all easy. So I can’t imagine how he did it. It’s more than human what he did and I would love to be like César Chávez.”
Marichel came from Minnesota. She is recent college graduate proficient in organizing students. But to organize farm workers is her passion. She sees what César saw and felt for humanity:
“A lot of the people we are working with have historically been discriminated against, historically been relegated to living in poverty, and historically have been made to believe that they can’t change this. And that’s what we do every day is change it.”
She fell in love with the UFW in 2007 when she did an internship with the Giumarra campaign in Delano organizing grape workers. After that she did not apply anywhere else. She had decided to be part of the UFW.
“It was a life changing experience. It as just remarkable because you find heroes out there in the most humble people and it’s a really beautiful thing…this is where the struggle is.”
And in spite of the fact that she never met César in person she knows that he exists in the eyes of the farm workers she organizes.
“I see César Chávez every day when I go into the office and I talk with the organizers. We see César Chávez every time someone lifts up their flags in the air, when someone knocks on the door and talks with the worker and even in the happy face of a farm worker when we’re making a change.”
No. I never got to meet the man named Chávez. But that’s ok. There is a legend and a mystery shrouded around him that is so compelling. But it is his dream that I know.
It’s been almost a year now since I began this journey with the United Farm Workers. I’ve worked with imperfect people as César was an imperfect person. Through so many people I’ve learned so many things since I first left Coachella. But the most important thing is one that Marichel said.
“To quit can’t ever enter your mind. No matter how many people slam their doors on us, no matter how may rancheros screw us over…we always have to continue. And that’s where ‘Si Se Puede’ comes from. How long did (César) spend with the carrot workers right? Talking with so many people and everyone said ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ Until the 70s you have 40,000 workers under contract. Perseverance…that’s what it is.”
“Joaquín Magón” is a youth reporter from Coachella living in Salinas and working for the United Farm Workers. He contributes regularly to Coachella Unincorporated.