Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
The eradication of violence in American society may not be feasible and sustainable without building a culture of peace and nonviolence. As we celebrate the 22nd annual march to honor the legacy of César Estrada Chávez on April 1st (Denver), with a theme of Reclaiming Male Responsibility Through Nonviolence, communities plagued with this epidemic might want to seriously consider studying César Chávez’ life and practicing his philosophy of nonviolence. He was one of a few national leaders that stringently practiced nonviolence as the United Farm Workers Union withstood physical attacks by angry and violent strikebreakers who were accustomed to using violence to control others. Chávez nonviolently confronted agribusiness with its megabucks and inhumane labor policies. He did so on behalf of powerless farmworkers that had been abandoned by law. His cause was not self-serving; it was activism at its best. The boycotts he established were nonviolent and effective approaches to raising the consciousness of the community and strengthening the union.
To understand peace, one must first come to grips with the damage that violence does to our collective spirit—violence is a psychological destructive force. We must constantly remind ourselves that only through the practice of nonviolence can human beings achieve the high ideals set forth by Chávez and other leaders that sacrificed their lives for the greater good. Chávez believed that nonviolence retains the unconditional dignity of the individual. To act violently would lead to the destruction of others and ultimately, our self-destruction. As Mayan philosophy teaches us—en lac esh—you are my other me. If I harm you, I also harm me.
The silent suffering that our youth are experiencing needs to be addressed.
The United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization defines peace as a, “set of values attitudes, modes of behavior and ways of life that reject violence and prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes and solving problems through dialogue and negotiation among individuals, groups and nations.” As José Antonio Orozco states in his book, César Chávez and the Common Sense of Nonviolence, “The grandest legacy of La Causa would be a contribution to the development of a culture of peace that can work toward a better world.”
Chávez rebuffed any type of violence as he preached nonviolence on America’s dusty fields from pulpits made of cardboard. One of the rituals rooted in Mexican culture that he practiced as an antidote to violence was el peregrinacion. The 300-mile pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento in 1966 was organized not to beg for sympathy from the atrocious conditions that farmworkers were experiencing in the fields but to heighten the social consciousness of the growers. As Chavez has stated, “A trip made with sacrifice and hardship is an expression of penance and commitment—and often involving a petition to the patron of the pilgrimage for some sincerely sought benefit of body or soul.” The inclusion of his Catholic faith during United Farm Worker (UFW) marches was never used as a tool for proselytization. He honored all faiths and invited all religions to participate in the struggle.
Another ritual that Chávez practiced was the fast, which confused and angered many of his followers. He fasted, not to make a spectacle of himself but to express to others whose impulses are geared towards fighting violence with violence, to refrain. Depraving himself of food and ridiculed by those who practice violence of the tongue accused him of possessing a Jesus Christ complex. In actuality, it was a revelation that one of the ways you can affect long term change is when you penetrate the soul of a human being with kindness and nonviolence. Once confronted with truth, anyone that is true to himself or herself, cannot regress.
Chávez was intimately aware of how “Americans generally associate México, particularly the border regions, with crime, random violence, drug trafficking, political corruption and sexual vice,” neglecting the many forms of institutionalized and political violence that governments use as social control methods in border towns through the militarization of the border. He was fully aware of how undocumented workers were transformed into modern day slaves, used as political pawns by power brokers who used incessant violence to try to destroy La Causa. In the Plan de Delano, Chávez sought remedies to end the suffering endured by farmworkers. As the plan stated, “We are suffering. We have suffered, and we are not afraid to suffer in order to win our cause…Our men, women and children have suffered not only the basic brutality of stoop labor, and the most obvious injustices of the system; they have also suffered the desperation of knowing that the system caters to the greed of callous men and not to our needs.”
Chávez denounced American racism, economic inequality and national policy in society where institutionalized violence was used to maintain the appalling social arrangements. He had witnessed structural violence embedded in Americas’ institutions; violence on the streets, violence inflicted upon others in personal relationships and violence developed through inhumane comprehensive immigration policies that has grown in scope and intensity. DACA students can attest to this as they live in fear and deprivation of basic human rights.
Chávez criticized narrow chauvinistic nationalism, describing it as a cover up for macho tendencies to control. Orozco states in his book that, “Power over others clearly resembles the kind of strength cherished by macho masculinity.” This kind of power can be abusive and destroy others. We should realize that power in communion with others coupled with nonviolence is a stronger force than dying by the sword. It can be a spiritual reawakening that brings community together tearing down false borders that maintain distance and dissonance between human beings. Chávez worked arduously at building power with others not over others.
With respect to what is happening in Denver regarding youth violence. Young people should not have to live in fear as they enter schools, gatherings, and group interaction in the community. Gun violence and other forms of violence has to stop; but it can only stop when we all make commitments to treat each other with respect. The silent suffering that our youth are experiencing needs to be addressed. It is better than becoming immune, not caring about the lives of others because death has become normalized that is, a part of life. Incidentally, incidentally, this is a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is healthier than experiencing apathy, isolationism, and indifference about God’s gift of life. As part of the philosophy of La Cultura Cura, we are taught that we should, “Live life with a sense of spirit or spirituality (espíritu) that allows individuals, families and communities to approach life with an element of enthusiasm (ganas).”
Our young Chicano males need role models, men who have learned how to control angry impulses and have transformed themselves into hombres nobles, an Aztec archetype from the times of our ancestors. Our culture has to be reclaimed so that our male youth can walk with dignity and honor. Long term social change is hard work. At times, it seems virtually impossible especially for the plight of the poor who suffer from social catastrophe on a daily basis in order to survive. A lesson that Chávez left us is that only through constant pressure, exposing truth and building solidarity can we create and sustain a culture of peace. Truth revealed through nonviolent struggle is more effective and will eventually overpass untruths echoed by violence. The time for justice is now. We can no longer wait as time passes uncompromisingly controlled by those who seek power over others. Time moves and without action nothing is changed.
There can be no honor in violence that obliterates human life. Compassion has to be created for those who lack understanding and who destroy human life and rationalize it through mechanisms of institutionalized policies aimed at human destruction. The culture of peace and nonviolence is not a panacea. It is not a life without conflict; it simply allows human beings to recognize their own frailties, with forgiveness as an antidote. As famed President of México Benito Juárez once stated:
“Entre los individuos como entre las naciones,
el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz.
Between individuals as between nations,
Respect for the rights of others is peace.”
Hermanas and Hermanos, we can only Reclaim Male Responsibility Through Nonviolence by creating a Culture of Peace.
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. ©April 1, 2023 Ramón Del Castillo.