Growing up, Christine Chávez had a mother who had a strong conviction in standing up for what one believed in.
She never took ‘no’ for an answer, and was committed to ‘la causa’ of the United Farm Workers. She taught her children how to stand up against bullies and be the strongest advocates for their ideals.
“If you look at every single one of my school pictures, I am wearing the red button of the UFW. My mom knew we were discouraged from wearing it to school, but still she had us wear it out of protest, but to also show people that we understood the injustices against farm workers and to demonstrate how we stood in solidarity,” said Chávez.
As one of 32 grandchildren of the late civil, labor and farmworkers rights leader César Chávez, Christine grew up with a mother who to this day, continues to embody the ideals of La Causa.
“She will go visit me at my home and leave me a note that reads: ‘I cleaned your kitchen. I made you dinner. ¡Viva la Raza! Love, Mom.’
Her mother not only introduced her and her siblings to the farmworker union, but to a grandfather who was equally passionate and instilled in her, valuable, lasting life lessons.
“He was the kind of man that knew what he wanted to do and did it with great compassion, conviction, dedication and commitment. He was unwavering in what he wanted to achieve and knew how he needed to do it,” said Chávez.
At Sacramento State last Wednesday, Chávez delivered the keynote speech at the annual César Chávez Legacy Luncheon and Concert, organized by the Serna Center at Sacramento State.
Approximately 150 students, most of them affiliated with the College Assistance Migrant Program sat in the University Union and listened to the granddaughter of the late Chávez speak about her most fondest memories and experiences growing up with her grandfather in the late 1960’s.
When César was busy traveling throughout the country, he never stayed in hotels and preferred to stay with families who supported the UFW. On one occasion, César took the young Christine to New York where it appeared they would be staying at the fancy Park Plaza Hotel. She begged him for weeks leading up to the trip about her desire to stay at the hotel.
But fate had other plans.
“When we arrived, we saw a picket line formed outside the hotel with hundreds of women maids on strike over working conditions and wages,” said Chávez. “Naturally, instead of staying at the hotel, my grandfather said, ‘OK, get ready, we are going to picket with them.’ So I grabbed my poster board, joined the strike and walked in solidarity with the women right in front of the hotel.”
That wasn’t the first time Christine had been involved in fighting for just causes.
As a toddler, she accompanied her parents in 1973 to Detroit, Michigan where they volunteered to organize the United Farm Worker’s second grape boycott. At the age 2, she was arrested along with her family by Detroit police for nonviolently picketing outside a supermarket.
As she got older, she used her grandfather’s phrase, “We don’t need perfect political systems, we need perfect participation,” and mastered the art of modern day campaigning and community organizing.
As a professional woman, Christine has helped in various campaigns, including that of former Los Ángeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Not too long ago, her grandfather’s legacy was confused with the most popular Mexican boxer of all time, Julio César Chávez.
At a function in Los Ángeles, she was about to take the stage and deliver a speech on her grandfather’s work when a dozen boxing promoters showed up with several signed boxing gloves and a $5,000 check.
They had accidentally crashed an event that was supposed to be a fundraiser for the UFW.
Before she delivered her speech, she learned the promoters were Golden Boy Promotions, led by the U.S. Olympic gold medalist Óscar de la Hoya. They had mistakenly attended the fundraiser thinking it was organized for the boxing legend.
When she broke the news to the promoters, they laughed.
“They said, ‘Oh, that guy (César Chávez) was cool too! You can keep the money and the signed boxing gloves for your raffle,” recalls Chávez.
It has been more than 22 years since the UFW leader died, but there are two lasting impressions Christine remembers. They wouldn’t be realized until she turned 16. Those two values were: solidarity and commitment.
“The first time I saw my grandfather as a civil rights and labor leader was when he underwent the 36-day water only fast to draw attention to the plight of farm workers. I went from seeing a grandfather that was active, vibrant and full of energy to one that was tired, bedridden and almost died,” said Chávez.
The level of commitment to a cause was an experience Christine has never witnessed before, or after his death.
In organizing, he formed the UFW with Dolores Huerta. While he structured the organization, many Latinos and Chicanos criticized his decision for putting non-Latinos in positions of leadership and power. But for César, it was imperative to branch out to other ethnic groups and people who believed in the same ideals and were supportive of La Causa.
“My grandfather knew the recipe for success and that was that diversity is essential–from sponsors to donors to supporters – and it worked perfectly,” said Chávez.
Throughout the farmworker movement, Chávez’s approach to non-violence drew the attention of other civil rights leaders of the time who acknowledged his work with the UFW. One of Chávez’s most prized possessions was a letter that the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote to him and sent via telegram about his fasting.
“They never met, but the letter Dr. King wrote him was one he treasured throughout his life. In it, Dr. King wrote how he was proud of my grandfathers commitment to his organization and achieving his objectives and goals by means of nonviolence,” said Chávez.
When Dr. King passed away, his wife became a strong supporter of the UFW.
Through the years as Christine got older, she used the lessons taught by her grandfather to champion causes that are important to her like transgender rights, a woman’s right to choose, tackling high drop out rates among Latino students; and providing a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented community.
“My grandfather always said, “You will lose sometimes, but it’s what you do after that counts.”
After her speech, members of the ‘Sí Se Puede’ All-Star band who was formed when César Chávez made a call to his friends in the music industry to perform benefit concerts for the farm workers movement, played a few songs. The goal was for students to recognize the important contributions of artists, musicians and performers throughout the farm worker movement.
“Every social movement has music and many great Chicano performers grew out of the farmworker movement,” said a member of the band.
On Saturday, April 1, the band along with Abel and the Prophets will do a benefit concert at the Roseville Theatre to help raise funds for ‘Song for César,’ a documentary film dedicated to the life and legacy of César Chávez and the United Farm Worker’s Movement.
For tickets, please visit: www.abelsongforCésar.eventbrite.com.