IMAGE: César Chávez, in the center, during a march in the summer of 1981, protesting the use of certain pesticides in the agricultural fields. The march began in French Camp and ended in Stockton, California’s McKinley Park. Photo by Pedro Chávez.
NOTE: I wrote this commentary in April 2006, right after hundreds of thousands of students throughout many cities in the nation walked out of classrooms to protest the language in a congressional bill meant to address immigration reform. This piece was at that time published in Enlace, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Spanish and English weekly. This is a slightly edited version of that article.
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We’ve opened our eyes, César. Our kids opened them for us. It’s amazing! It almost seems as if they had actually listened to your advice.
Remember? During the marches, when you used to tell us to stick together and peacefully go to the rancher’s office to ask for a raise and for better working conditions? And to go into his office and sit on the floor until he agreed to talk to us and discuss our grievances? And that if we were thrown out of his place, to peacefully return as a group and to again try to talk to the rancher? As many times as necessary until he agreed to listen to us?
I know that you remember what you told us, César. That was the message that you repeated over and over again during all those marches that I walked with you in the Central Valley. I remember your words well.
And you know something? That’s in a way what our kids did recently when they walked out of their schools to tell a nation bent on calling us criminals that a proposed immigration reform act passed by Congress was wrong. They exercised their rights to peacefully assemble and petition the government, César. Amazing kids. Did you advise them from the ever after? Something tells me you did.
Do you remember, too, that story you used to tell us at the end of the marches about that young boy, a farm worker’s son, that was selling his just-days-old puppies outside a field somewhere along the San Joaquín Valley? That story about the power of knowledge and about a young child who knew how to negotiate and leverage the value of his product to get a better price for it? Remember?
I’m sure you do. You know, the story about that rancher, the one who stopped at the intersection just before his land where the young farm worker’s son had posted a sign announcing puppies for sale at one dollar each. You remember it, right?
I’ve never forgotten the story, César. It had a great message for me and I will never forget it. But, just in case you – and others – have forgotten it, here’s the ending, trying to quote the actual words you used, but warning you beforehand that there could be some inconsistencies in my choice of words. With the passing of time, my ability to remember your exact words is somewhat difficult.
“Two weeks after having seen the puppies for the first time,” you would tell us, “the rancher again stopped at the intersection and noticing that the boy still had three of the dogs for sale, he parked his truck, got out, and walked towards the area where the puppies were running around and playing with each other in a large cardboard box.”
Next to them, you would explain, there was a new sign announcing: “Choose your puppy. Only three left. $5 each.”
As the rancher noticed the new asking price, you would continue, he complained, questioning the new cost.
“Two weeks ago the puppies were only a dollar,” the rancher told the child. “Today you’re selling them for five. How can you justify such drastic rise in price?”
“It’s because the puppies already opened their eyes, sir,” the boy replied.
We’ve opened our eyes, too, César. Thanks to our children and to the things they did when they decided to en masse leave their classrooms to protest the things those congressmen and others are saying about us. They are calling us criminals, César. Just because we come here to work.
But, we’re not criminals. And just like our children did, we are going to follow your repeated advice. We’re going to march again and we’re going to walk through the streets of this nation to remind others that we have rights, too. Again, following your advice, we’re going to stick together and walk peacefully.
We’re also going to ask our children to go back to school. To get an education, so they may have the tools to succeed. And so their children and the children of their children may have a voice in government.
The fight is ours now, César. It belongs to the adults. But, we’re not going to let our kids down. We are going to fight for our rights and we’re going to demand respect from those in government. We won’t let them to call us criminals again. We will do it peacefully, just like you taught us, César.
Of course, we’re never going to forget that the student walkouts and the subsequent marches through our cities were the events that provided the needed sparks to light up the new phase of our struggle. The unfinished fight we had forgotten.
Our kids did it, César. Sí se pudo.