Our place in history ...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

César Chávez, the man who died 20 years ago & the National Monument that bears his name:

I was not surprised when Ruben Navarrette Jr. went after Civil Rights Era labor leader, César Estrada Chávez, and President Obama for honoring him, in yet another outlandish, sensationalist, unsubstantiated op-ed for CNN.

This is, after all, the man who was hissed off of a panel he was speaking on in 2008, after insulting Dolores Huerta, to her face. When she won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, after having been arrested 22 times, and badly beaten, in the course of her extensive career fighting on behalf of farmworker, immigrant, women’s and civil rights, he whined, and calling the accomplishment, “a tarnished award.”

An active opponent of the Drop the I-Word campaign,
Navarrette argued in favor of the deportation of, Daniela Pelaez, the DREAM Act and DACA eligible, valedictorian of her high school class, and slammed Olympian, Leo Manzano, for celebrating winning a silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter final; running the fastest time ever by a US athlete.

I mean, Navarrette began his career as a writer by describing himself as an arrogant, overbearing, confrontation-hungry figure, who was booed off of his own high school stage, for trying to take César Chávez’s head off in a nose-to-nose shouting match, taking place not long before the labor leader’s death.

Roberto Lovato, Charles Garcia, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Jose Antonio Vargas, and yours truly, have put Navarrette in his place for having a love affair with the slur, “illegal immigrant.”

Latino Rebels, Esther Cepeda, Maria Burns Ortiz, as well as Cal State Fullerton Chicana & Chicano Studies Chair, Alexandro Jose Gradilla, and Washington State University Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies Professor, David J. Leonard, have put Navarrette in his place for questioning Olympian Leo Manzano’s patriotism, and downplaying his accomplishments.

To quote “Sage of the Yankees,” Yogi Berra, “This is like déjà vu all over again.”

Navarrette does his best to paint César Chávez as a violent hatemonger. Latino Rebels cut him down to size. Janet Murgia, the President and CEO of NCLR, schooled him. Luis León, preached the gospel. And UFW President, Arturo Rodriguez, bore prophetic witness to an undeniable truth:

“No labor leader and organization championed immigration reform earlier and with more consistency than César Chávez’s United Farm Workers of America. Under Chávez, the UFW opposed… [federal efforts targeting] undocumented workers long before most labor groups acted… Some people falsely claim the UFW is or has been against undocumented workers. So there is no misunderstanding, everyone should clearly understand the following: There are two separate and distinct issues—immigration reform and strikebreaking. Don’t confuse them!

• Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta worked for years against the infamous 1942-1964 Bracero Program that exploited domestic farmworkers who were denied jobs and replaced by imported farmworkers who were abused by growers.
• In 1973, decades before most labor organizations acted, the UFW became one of the very first unions to oppose the “employer sanction.”
• UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta played a crucial role in creating the amnesty provisions of the 1986 federal immigration law that enabled 1 million farmworkers to become legal residents.
• The UFW spent years negotiating with the nation’s agricultural industry to create the historic bipartisan AgJobs bill allowing undocumented farmworkers in this country to earn the legal right to permanently stay here by continuing to work in agriculture.

Immigration reform is separate and distinct from the issue of strikebreaking. No one has the right to be a strikebreaker. No legitimate union permits its strikes to be broken by anyone, regardless of race, origin or nationality.”

Confronted with this evidence, Navarrette took to his Facebook page in an effort to solicit support from his followers, and employed a series of ad hominem attacks to undercut anyone who dared to question the validity of his article:

“Chavistas [are] Kool-Aid drinking defenders of the Mexican Minuteman, César Chávez… Most of whom wouldn't know a Chicano from a chimichanga… [like the] propeller heads at Latino Rebels [who] take issue with my CNN piece on the dedication of the National Monument… Quick, a quarter for their tin cup!... I remember watching Andre the Giant wrestle three guys at once just to make it fair. I’m waiting for the Rebels to rustle up two more websites… Some people claim… that during the ceremony this week tiny purple unicorns flew out of Obama's a**… Here’s to shining the light and letting the cockroaches scatter.”

In the 1984, Oscar nominated film, Amadeus, composer Antonio Salieri recognizes the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but thwarts him out of envy.

Navarrette is Salieri.

To quote another popular 80s movie, Top Gun, his ego writes checks his body can’t cash.

He clearly knows this.

To quote LL Cool J, from the battle track that effectively ended Kool Moe Dee’s career, “Trashy brother from way back… best tracks is wack… Try to dis the Lords, but yo, you’re dead wrong… There simply ain’t no frontin’ allowed.”

The point of all of this is not to shine a spotlight on Navarrette’s desperate attempts to redefine the measure the quality of an editorial essay by purporting that the click-by-click metric that made Tila Tequila a celebrity should be used to determine the quality of a piece of writing.

What gives pause, is the fact that Navarrette’s work is embraced and utilized by xenophobes, racists, and white supremacists. On nationalist hate group site VDARE, author Allan Wall, feels it completely unnecessary to pick and choose segments from Navarrette’s column on Olympian Leo Manzano, choosing instead to run it in its entirety. Single-issue, perpetual right-wing candidate, Tom Tancredo, quotes Navarrette’s column on Chávez in his latest screed on Townhall, the self-proclaimed, “leading source for conservative news and political commentary and analysis.” And ALIPAC, the self-proclaimed, “largest archive of information about illegal immigration, criminal immigrants, illegal aliens… border patrol, how to report, deport… Mexicans… gangs, crimes… Dream Act… amnesty,” has republished it under the headline, “The violent César Chávez legacy towards illegal aliens.”

These uncompromising anti-reform crusaders represent the most disgusting, vile, reprehensible elements of the immigration policy debate. These are the chief drivers of the anti-immigrant talk we heard during the 2012 Republican Primary Race; the proponents of pledges to build an electrified fence along the border, promote Arizona SB 1070 style laws across the country, veto the DREAM Act, overturn President Obama’s order to halt certain deportations, and so forth.

Somos Republicanos demonstrated integrity and decency by standing up to the many GOP leaders who made use of the slur “anchor babies” in their effort to eliminate the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship.

Would anyone make the case that Navarrette has shown similar qualities by launching a ceaseless series of cheap shots against César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and President Obama? After Mother Jones made public the hidden camera video in which Mitt Romney states his belief that while 47% of voters are dependent upon government, and won’t take personal responsibility and care for their lives, he’d have an easier time winning the election if he were Latino, Navarrette opened his column by saying, “If he [Romney] were Mexican, there’s a 94.6% chance that he would've already been deported by his opponent.” It’s more accurate to compare Navarrette to the Madd Rapper who introduces Bad Boy records Greatest Hits album, taking potshots at those above him, the objects of his hateration, whenever possible. But I digress.

Chávez is most fairly viewed via the lens of his clashes as an unelected, organizer of impoverished workers of color, excluded from Social Security and other benefits, who took on corporate growers, agri-business investors, and government interests. For instance, one of Chávez’s chief nemeses, Ronald Reagan, called a televised press conference with the explicit purpose of eating grapes in defiance of the UFW-sponsored boycott, and vetoed the extension of unemployment insurance to farmworkers three times.

Chávez’s October 1, 1969 remarks before Congress contextualize the challenge well:

“When farmworkers declare a strike, it is not only a strike that happens, but it is a whole revolution in that community. It becomes a civil liberties issue, it becomes a race issue, and it becomes a desperate struggle just to keep the movement going… We not only had the growers against us, but we had the other public bodies like the city council, the board of supervisors, the high school and elementary school districts, passing resolutions and propaganda against the strike and against the union… In America today, a vast majority of farmworkers are poor, and the vast majority are from minority groups. We are brown and black… Employers have used— and I should say very well—the tactic of setting one racial group against the other. This has been a long-standing trick of theirs to break the unions…

The local authorities come into play immediately to try to destroy the efforts of organizing. At the beginning of the strike, there were mass arrests by the Delano Police Department and by the County Sheriff’s Department… We see the indifference of the local courts. We see how employers can come in and can get injunctions at will, and we see how the injunctions break our strikes… We see that bringing the employers to court when they have broken the law is almost impossible. The indifference of the federal agencies in regard to enforcement of those few regulations that apply to farmworkers is also very bad. We have cases with the Federal Food and Drug Administration going back two years…

Using their money, their offices, their duplicating equipment… [the growers set up] a company union, well staffed, well financed. Information discovered by an investigation by the Department of Labor, plus signed statements from two of the officers of the Agricultural Workers Freedom to Work Association prove
what the growers were doing… These facts were uncovered and the law-breaking phony union has not been brought to court. I might add here that there were four or five different attempts to establish company unions in the past… One of them was called ‘Mothers Against Chávez’…

Since we are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act and there is no machinery for elections, the union and employers have to agree to set up some kind of procedure for the election… The whole question of our representing the workers is not in issue. But the 12 growers who agreed to negotiate with us raised the issue. So we gave the Federal Mediation Service cards signed by ninety per cent of the strike-breakers working for the growers at that time. The card said, ‘we support the union.’ So the question of whether we represent the workers or not is a phony issue… The real question is… Are the farmworkers going to be able to walk out of their poverty and be counted and accepted as true men by their employers?... How is it going to be done?... That it is going to be done is accepted by all of us who are in the struggle.”

Navarrette, and everyone else obsessed with the vilification of César Chávez, the man who died nearly twenty years ago, should focus on the fact that this National Monument, like Mount Rushmore is a symbol, not an instrument for the absolution of sins, or an official seal of approval for historical negationism.

Our first President, George Washington not only owned slaves, he signed the Fugitive Slave Law.

Author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote against miscegenation, and then had six children by African American, Sally Hemings—all of whom were born into and grew up in slavery.

Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln did not believe African Americans could be “assimilated into white society,” rejected the notion of social equality of the races, and believed former slaves should be resettled abroad.

Rough Rider, Teddy Roosevelt was an anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, Sinophobic, xenophobic, Nativist, who called the 19th Century lynching of “hyphenated Americans” and immigrants, “a rather good thing.”

Pulitzer Prize winning historian, James McPherson, writes, “History is a continuing dialogue between the present and the past. Interpretations of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable ‘truth’ about past events and their meaning.”

Chávez critics incapable of squashing personal beefs, (however longstanding) and silencing superficially evidenced conspiracy theories, for one minute, and acknowledging the significance of the National Monument as a symbol—a cultural representation of the experiences and perceptions of millions of Latinos—are nothing more than haters.

The designation of the property at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz as a National Monument was not an act of canonization. César Chávez was not inducted into sainthood.

Instead, President Obama went to La Paz and remarked:

“To the members of the Chávez family… to the men and women who’ve worked so hard for so long to preserve this place… Thank you… Most of all, I want to thank Helen Chávez… to Helen, this will always be home. It’s where she fought alongside the man that she loved; where she raised eight children and spoiled 31 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. This is where she continues to live… Helen, today we are your guests… César would be the first to say that this is not a monument to one man. The movement he helped to lead was sustained by a generation of organizers who stood up and spoke out, and urged others to do the same—including the great Dolores Huerta, who is here today. It drew strength from Americans of every race and every background who marched and boycotted together on behalf of ‘La Causa.’ And it was always inspired by the farmworkers themselves, some of whom are with us. This place belongs to you, too…

César cared… he made other people care, too. A march that started in Delano with a handful of activists—that march ended 300 miles away in Sacramento with a crowd 10,000 strong. A boycott of table grapes that began in California eventually drew 17 million supporters across the country, forcing growers to agree to some of the first farmworker contracts in history. Where there had once been despair, César gave workers a reason to hope… And even though we have a difficult road ahead, I know we can keep moving forward together. I know it because César himself worked for 20 years as an organizer without a single major victory—think about that—but he refused to give up...
More than anything, that’s what I hope our children and grandchildren will take away from this place. Every time somebody’s son or daughter comes and learns about the history of this movement, I want them to know that our journey is never hopeless, our work is never done.”


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