Grade Level: 9-12
Student: Claudia Cocoba
Teacher: Norma Williamson
Chapter: TA of Norwalk-La Mirada
A Life Changing Man
I remember hearing about a man named César Chávez when I was younger. My mom would say he was one of our culture’s role models and that he helped Latinos grow to play a major part in this country. I never really understood what he did until I did the research myself.
He was a farm worker like many other Latinos who understood the hardships of farm labor. César and a woman named Dolores Huerta came up with the famous slogan “Si, se puede.” When you translate the slogan to English it reads “yes, we can” or “yes, you can.” President Obama had the same slogan for his political campaign: “Yes We Can!”
I think the slogan has a very positive impact on the Latino community and on me as a young Latina. The slogan has helped me to accomplish not just little things like passing a school test but also bigger things like dreaming of attending a prestigious, quality college. The slogan has helped me personally because sometimes when I feel like I can’t solve a problem, I just remember, “Si, se puede.”
César was a great and caring man. He believed so much in social justice, not just for people but also for animals; that is why he chose to become a vegan, in other words a person who doesn’t eat any animal product, not even dairy foods. He cared so much for our country that he joined the United States Navy at the age of seventeen and fought for our country in World War II.
Another quality that shows his compassion is that he and his wife Helena Fabela, taught farm workers to read and write so that they could become U.S. citizens. I believe he was a man who really loved helping others. He helped many farm workers to achieve their dreams of citizenship.
His empathy for others inspires me when I take care of latchkey children in the community childcare program; when I clean up the local beaches and when I help raise funds for my school and church. When I get tired and stressed out doing so much for my community, I just think of his “Si, se puede” and I get energized.
César put his health in danger in 1968 when he fasted for twenty-five days because he wanted to demonstrate the injustices that farmworkers face every day. It is very dangerous to put one’s own body at risk but César did it anyway, and he did it to improve the working conditions of farm workers and other sources of conflicts. Once, he traveled at his own cost to be with a group that was fasting to express concern over the war in Vietnam.
Every single time my mother and I go to the produce section of the local grocery store, we are reminded of César’s struggles for healthy fruits and vegetables that are free of chemical sprays. When customers go shopping, they can’t even imagine the grueling process in picking the fruits and vegetables for their families’ daily meals. One sees the produce nice and clean and ready to eat because the farm workers are breaking their backs in hot weather to feed America.
César protested the spraying of pesticides, which makes farmworkers and consumers very sick and can really do some serious health and environmental damage. Pesticides are toxic substances used to kill weeds, insects, plant diseases, and other crop pests. Farm workers are exposed to these pesticides when they’re working in the fields. In 1988 César fasted for thirty-six days to object the use of pesticides. He was attempting to end the use of five pesticides that were commonly used in the growing of table grapes, California’s largest fruit crop. Doctors examined him and said he had lost a total of thirty pounds and they urged him to stop his fast. Entire cities were praying for his health.
He was a very strong Roman Catholic who believed whole-heartedly in his religion. I believe that he received his strength to continue his fasts and fight for justice from his faith. I too want to have a strong faith like César so that I too can be of service to others. César wanted equality for all farm workers because many emigrated from other countries and were severely under-paid.
The thirty first of March is his birthday and it is now known as César Chávez Day. Many schools, state government offices, and libraries are closed on César Chávez Day. Parks, streets, and schools have been named in his honor. Many people choose to volunteer and help around their community on this day. I plan on continuing to help my community and other people in need.
César’s work and sacrifice led to a number of improvements for poor people and Latinos. César is the first Latino to be honored with a State holiday. It was his dream that farm workers be treated with equality and respect and I believe his dream has made a difference.