Birthday celebration honors Cesar Chavez

Susana Wittrock entered the fields more than a decade after the Delano grape strike. From ages 7 to 13 she picked grapes in the same California fields as workers who initiated the five-year strike that began in 1965.

Cesar Chavez, a leader of the strike, became the face of a movement to illuminate the working and living conditions of some of America’s lowest-paid — if they were paid at all — workers, most of whom were migrant workers.

Everyone knew Chavez’s name, Wittrock said, and “what he was doing was for us, to help improve our conditions.”

Even after a 1970 collective bargaining agreement struck between Chavez’ United Farmer Workers of America and table grape growers, conditions in the fields were not great, Wittrock recalled, but better.

“We still had our undocumented colleagues get deported around payday, we still didn’t get paid sometimes,” she said. “And there were no bathroom facilities in the field. But maybe they didn’t spray us with pesticides as much.”

The point being, progress happens slowly if at all, and the work Cesar Chavez began is not done. Those who attended the Cesar Chavez Birthday Celebration on Saturday at Las Colonias Park were reminded of this.

“(Chavez) touched my heart on how you should help others and help create change,” explained Jose Luis Chavez, a Grand Junction native who was in college when Cesar Chavez began drawing national attention to the lives of migrant workers. “He fought the system with nonviolence and integrity.”

Jose Luis Chavez was inspired enough by Cesar Chavez’s work that he participated in and helped organize marches and boycotts in this area and around the state. It’s a movement that still needs momentum, he said, especially in the current climate of uncertainty and fear.

“The really important problem we have is are we going to say get rid of everybody, send them away, or do what Cesar said, unite and fight?” Jose Luis Chavez said. “We have to take the side where we’re going to help somebody, people who just want to improve their lives.”


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