By Jesús Canchola Sánchez
Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona. My grandmother is a year younger than him. She was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. Cesar Chavez and my abuela (grandmother), Beatriz Soto, are a part of me. Their experiences, successes, and faults have constructed my identity in the United States. Without their stories, I wouldn’t have my voice. Much has changed since Cesar Chavez led Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee members on a grape workers’ strike in 1965 — and much hasn’t. The work continues because it is not finished. The struggle of farmworkers is a present day reality connected to the immigration policy reform crisis that has militarized our southern border.
Earlier this month, I saw Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, speak at an immigration rally organized by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice in Selma as part of a weekend of events commemorating another historic organizing moment from 1965, “Bloody Sunday.”
Afterwards, I approached her and asked if I could hug her. She smiled and opened her arms. Hugging her felt familiar. I’ve known Dolores all of my life. I’ve known her like I’ve known my grandmother and Cesar Chavez.
“Freedom is best experienced through participation and self-determination, and free men and women instinctively prefer democratic change to any other means,” Cesar Chavez wrote these words honoring Martin Luther King’s Jr.’s memory.
On Cesar Chavez’s birthday, I honor his ability to engage effectively across identities, organizations and institutions, perspectives, and skills in a common effort.
I choose to identify with his contributions to humanity. On his birthday, I honor the unsung heroes of our lives, like my grandmother, who leads by example and has birthed a family of peaceful warriors to combat the human rights violations in the world.
I am hopeful for all of the Cesar Chavez’s, Dolores Huerta’s, and abuelas that are being born now. May they walk up to us at a rally requesting a hug and may we open our arms to transmit that familiarity that connects us as a people.
It is up to each of us in the human rights movement to celebrate those that have come before us, honor those that are walking alongside us in the present moment, and create a space for those just beginning to walk.
Jesús Canchola Sánchez is the Director of Member Engagement at Amnesty International USA. Follow him on Twitter: @chuypio