Grade Level: 9-12
Student: Karla Ortiz
Teacher: Courtney Ziani
Chapter: Perris Secondary EA
Before 1970, many American farmers had suffered of exploitation, inhumane treatment, and poor working conditions. Despite the fact that these farmers left their sweat and blood on these fields, they were willing to work for as low as $2 a day; children were even taken out of school to work, causing there to be a lot of illiteracy among the youth. In 1965, Mexican-American and Filipino-American farmers began to make their discontent public all throughout California – they refused to pick grapes. They hoped to gain the same rights other Americans had; this included better wages and an education for their children. César Chávez, the leader of such movement, soon became the founder of the United Farm Workers Association and a civil rights activist. He supported and followed the same non-violence principles that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi had followed. After a pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, a grape boycott, and even a fasting period, in 1970, five years after the start of the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement, Chávez managed to negotiate with the farm owners, or growers, of Delano; farmers had reached their main objectives: better working conditions, higher wages, and the opportunity for their children to attend school.
In Mexico, my father was born into a family of farmers. Like American children born into farmer families, many Mexican children born into farmer families were dropping out of school to work, my father being one of them. At the age of twelve, my father was already working with my grandfather, helping him sustain their family of thirteen. However, this sacrifice didn’t help them as much as they wanted it to; my father and his family were still going to bed without eating. When my father realized that his sacrifice (of giving up his education) wasn’t getting them anywhere, my father made the decision of leaving his family behind to find a better paying job in the United States. And that’s exactly what happened. In 1986, he found a decent paying job as a farmer, where he harvested broccoli and lettuce. If it hadn’t had been for César Chávez, my father wouldn’t have found the job he found, or at least he wouldn’t have found it with the better working conditions and higher wage it offered. As a result, he was able to send a decent amount of money back to Mexico to his family, allowing them to buy food and other necessities.
My father no longer sends money to Mexico because both his parents have passed away, plus his brothers and sisters are now old enough to sustain themselves and their own spouse and children. My father now sustains our family of seven, which is made up of him, my mother, my four brothers, and me. However, my father no longer works as a farmer. After Chávez led the Mexican-American Civil Rights Movement, more local schools were built (some even named after him), increasingly encouraging many young American farmers like my father to continue their education. My father has had the opportunity to further his education, and is now a CNC machinist.
Aside from fighting for Mexican-American rights, Chávez also urged many to register and vote. He wanted them to be equal to every other American. He didn’t see any characteristic that made native Americans different from migrant Americans; they were all Americans; in the end, they all had the same objective: they all wanted the American dream.
When I learned about César Chávez, he reminded me of the father. My father, like Chávez, is a hardworking man who just wants the best for everyone and not just himself. Although my father has a career now, the economic depression that our nation is going through has made work slow and he, therefore, isn’t earning enough money to support our big family. He, literally, works day and night (two shifts), five days a week, in order to give us a life that is better than his life when he was young. It is obvious that my father doesn’t want us, his children, to go through the hardships he has faced; he is constantly telling us to study and to continue our education after high school. My father is urging his children, like Chávez did with his people, to do everything possible to reach our goals and dreams, no matter how high they are. “Si se puede!” as Chávez would say.
It is very possible that Chávez might have influenced my father’s ideas and beliefs. Before working on U.S. farms, my father would have never imagined that he would have continued his education and eventually have a career as a machinist. Because Chávez’s words and actions encouraged people to not settle for less, many, including my father, decided to improve themselves by getting an education. My father is now passing that value of education to my brothers and me. I, like my siblings, have tried my best all throughout my school career. So far, I have accomplished a lot. I hope to continue my education after high school and eventually become a lawyer and language interpreter, to help my people with legal problems as César Chávez did.