I spent much of the day remembering Cesar Chavez. The times we talked. I can still hear his gentle but commanding voice. His speeches at our national conference. People asking him to dance for just a few seconds, just long enough to put a few dollars in his hand. He was so gracious, humble, non-pretentious, and forever grateful for the love and support he received at USHLI. Though he was the most famous Hispanic in the world, he never charged for his speeches. But he did appreciate contributions because he had the hardest working staff in the country, and he had to pay them all - $5 per week. I know his staff would have worked for free if they could have survived on vegetables like his son-in-law, Artie, still does.
Today would have been his birthday. Born March 31, 1927, Cesar Chavez died on April 23, 1993 at the age of 66. He didn’t live very long, but through his life he changed the world. A few of us who knew him are still around. Many others still remember him. Sadly there are those today who never knew him or of him.
Fortunately my friend, Dr. Armando Vasquez-Ramos, Executive Director of the California-Mexico Studies Center, captured the 10 Core Values of Cesar Chavez in a piece he wrote.
1. Acceptance of all People – An essential ingredient for success in organizing diverse forces to achieve social change, create community, and actualize democracy is the acceptance of all people; an absolutely indispensable necessity to the well-being of this country.
“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural
diversity that nourishes and strengthens ... this nation.”
2. Celebrating Community - Sharing the joyous and respectful expression of cultural
diversity through the reinforcement of the values of equity and responsibility to and for one another.
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community ... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
3. Respect for Life and the Environment – Respect that holds as sacred the land, the people, and all other forms of life.
“However important the struggle is and however much misery and poverty and degradation exist, we know that it cannot be more important than one human life.”
4. Non-Violence – Invoking non-violence as the most powerful tool for achieving social/economic justice and equality; action that requires boldness and courage versus meekness and passivity.
“Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak ... Nonviolence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”
5. Innovation – A creative capacity to find pragmatic strategies and tactics to resolve problems and situations that often seen insurmountable to others.
“A lasting organization is one in which people will continue to build, develop and move when you are not there.”
6. A Preference to Help the Most Needy – A concerted effort to support programs that reach the most needy, the most dispossessed, the most forgotten people in society no matter how difficult the challenge that choice may bring.
“We are tired of words, of betrayals, of indifference ...the years are gone when the farm worker said nothing and did nothing to help himself ... Now we have new faith. Through our strong will, our movement is changing these conditions ... We shall be heard.”
7. Knowledge - The pursuit of self-directed learning and the development of critical thinking and constructive problem solving skills; overcoming ignorance through education.
“Students must have initiative; they should not be mere imitators. They must learn to think and act for themselves and be free.”
8. Sacrifice – Sacrifice that is spiritual; that is courageous and steadfast in its willingness to endure great hardship for others.
“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanity, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non- violent struggle for justice. To be human is to suffer for others. God help us to be human.”
9. Service to Others – Service that is predicated on empowering others; engendering self-help, self-determination, and self-sufficiency versus charity.
“When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”
10. Determination – Determination that is characterized by an attitude that with faith, steadfast commitment, patience, and optimism, human beings can prevail against all odds.
“We draw our strength from the very despair in which we have been forced to live. We shall endure.”
Dr. Juan Andrade, Jr.
United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, Inc.