Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
La Raza is not looking for limosna (charity) nor platitudes from this country. Our communities aspire for something more meaningful. Our presence in the Western Hemisphere and in the United States of América is undeniable. A gesture towards national visibility equal to our counterparts would be nice.
For on lookers who have seen President Joe Biden on television, what stands out is a bust, on top of his credenza behind his desk; it is a bust of none other than César Estrada Chávez, one of the famed founders of the United Farm Workers organization. It’s time to make César Chávez a national holiday. He is a hero to the working class, someone who committed his life to struggling for a union of farm workers that had historically been abandoned by law. The iron is hot and our communities must strike fast while Americans are clamoring for social justice. If our communities don’t demonstrate leadership on this historical opportunity no one else is going to do it for us.
I am curious as to why President Joe Biden chose to place a brown man in his sacred space, with other relics and other persons in his life that have sacrosanct meaning. Is it because President Biden supports People of Color, whose populations live in dire economic circumstances? Is it because he has an affinity for farmworkers? Is it because he is making a statement—if so, what statement might that be? What President Biden is painfully aware of is that many immigrants and farm workers are undocumented, Brown, and suffering disproportionately because of the pandemic.
The overarching mantra of comprehensive immigration has gotten the attention of policy makers. Biden aspires to create fair and humane immigration policy—something that is looming on the forefront—but also an issue that has its enemies. Historically, it has been a red herring for the last several administrations as contradictory forces battle over the continued need for cheap labor, namely from our neighbors from the south, while the right continues to redbait undocumented workers.
The Biden Administration has vowed to find the parents of Mexican and South American children who were separated at the US Mexican border from their parents during the last administration. There are other provisions in the legislative package that include pathways to citizenship; something that has become bottlenecked, even more so during this pandemic. DACA students may find a pathway to citizenship, leaving the endemic fear that has engulfed them for many years; but waiting 8 years to become citizens is also fear provoking. The administration exhibits a tad of immigraphobia—promising to increase border patrol, further racializing immigrants; therefore, it has included a provision to deploy more technology at a price of 4 billion dollars for the next four years to, “confront corruption, enhance security, and foster prosperity. Processing in Central Americans to discourage migrants from trying to travel to the US México border.” This would leave a surplus of scapegoats in case things don’t go as planned. Lastly, the term “alien” will be stricken from public records and replaced with noncitizen while the real issue of eradicating white supremacists will remain.
If our communities don’t demonstrate leadership on this historical opportunity no one else is going to do it for us.
Another provision Biden leans towards is shorter processes to legal status for agricultural workers. The genesis for the ongoing struggle for farm workers in this country was César Estrada Chávez, who used union building through non-violent tactics to get the attention of the American public. He was one of the guardians of the people of the earth, struggling to protect agricultural workers from inhumane working conditions, battling against pesticides used by mega corporations that have harmed generations of campesino families and children, declaring fair wages, and building respect for those who till the soil. Farm workers were given essential worker status and continue to put food on América’s tables, while suffering from disproportionate numbers of Covid.
The Farm Worker Modernization Policy includes pathways to legalization for farmworkers as well as a proposal to change visa programs known as H-2A visa. Communities need to be careful with this one, especially if it is patterned after the nefarious Green Card Program, often referred to as the Bracero Program. In the past, this policy was used as an exploitative method of abusing farm workers, keeping them in check as a supply of labor for jobs at low wages—jobs that Americans refuse to do. ICE has yet to be included in this plethora of policy provisions, once cited by President Obama, as men who “behave like terrorists.” ICE should be demolished.
While addressing the question of national visibility and the many challenges that farm workers and Chicanos continue to experience in American society, undoubtedly the passage of a policy making César E. Chávez a national holiday would make a great statement. As the César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver prepares for its 20th year celebration, which will incidentally be modified to meet the Covid restrictions, committee members believe it is time to institutionalize Chávez’ legacy. Naming streets, parks and buildings at various state levels does not translate into a national message. Passing legislation to make Chávez’ birthday would be perceived as paying respect to the many contributions Latinos have made to American society at many levels.
In The Eagle Has Eyes: The FBI Surveillance of Cesar Estrada Chavez of the United Farm Workers Union of America (1965-1975) published in 2019 by national leader in the Chicana/o Movement José Ángel Gutiérrez, the author provides readers a scathing analysis of the infiltration of the FBI into union activities during the tumultuous building of the UFW. How is it that Chávez became subversive in the eyes of the government? Perhaps, when a leader confronts one of the sacred cows of the power structure, in this case, agribusiness and farm growers, there is a price to pay. The grim reality is that when a member of an oppressed group steps outside of the ethnocentric stereotypes developed by those that govern, the social and economic apparatus’ have to turn up the heat. Chávez was known for ridiculing and making a mockery of the contradictions between the farm workers and the growers in América. He spent a major part of his life giving to others and asking for nothing in return.
A bust of César Estrada Chávez sitting on President Biden’s credenza is not enough. A holiday would be apropos as Americans seek ways to create social justice for a group that remains invisible.
¡Que Viva La Huelga!
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 2-14-2021 Ramón Del Castillo.
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