In her comments at the dedication of Cesar Chavez Elementary School this week, Christine Chavez Delgado shared her personal insights about her grandfather:
"I really want to express my gratitude to the community of Long Beach for all that you have done to preserve my grandfather’s legacy. Our family has joined you at the opening of your park, and at the Chavez celebrations at the Community Center. I have had the great opportunity to speak with students at Cal State Long Beach as they remembered my grandfather. And I say thank you today for extending an invitation to me and allowing me to say a few words as you dedicate an elementary school in my grandfather’s name.
"I would like to relate some personal observations about my grandfather that you usually don’t read about in books. He was a strict vegetarian. He meditated daily and practiced yoga. He enjoyed playing handball and softball.
"He was a self-taught learner who read every day. I remember going to so many bookstores and spending hours in them. His office and home were mini-libraries. His reading interests covered a wide array of subjects, from history and biography to management theory and various religious and communal societies. He walked with presidents and popes but never thought of himself as anything but a farm worker. His heroes were Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. He learned about the power of the boycott from Dr. King’s Birmingham bus boycott. And he learned about the spiritual meaning of fasting from Gandhi.
"The biggest lesson that I learned from my grandfather was that of commitment and dedication. That lesson came when I was 16 years old. In the summer of 1988, my grandmother Helen called us to Delano and told us that my grandfather was undertaking a fast. We had heard about the fasts in the 60’s, but I don’t think that anyone was prepared for what was to come.
"That summer at the age of 61 my grandfather fasted for 36 days on water only--to protest the use of pesticide poisoning of farm workers and their children. While he fasted week after week, we saw my grandfather go from an active, vibrant person to being bedridden and almost losing his life. I have never witnessed that level of commitment and dedication in any person before or since.
"As we celebrate the dedication of Cesar Chavez Elementary here in Long Beach, it is important to remember who he was: a true American hero; a civil rights, Latino, farm worker and labor leader; a religious and spiritual figure; a community servant and social entrepreneur; a crusader for nonviolent social change; and an environmentalist and consumer advocate.
"Cesar passed away in his sleep 11 years ago on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona, only miles from his birthplace of 66 years earlier. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral services in the small town of Delano, California, the same community in which he had planted his seed for social justice only decades before.
"Cesar’s life cannot be measured in material terms. He never earned more than $6,000 a year. He never owned a house. When Cesar passed, he had no savings to leave to his family. I really believe that my grandfather would want to be remembered as a person who made an impact in the lives of not just farm workers but all working class people. He would want to be remembered as a person who inspired others, especially students, to dream big.
"It is my hope that the students, parents, faculty and staff of this new school embrace my grandfather’s legacy and promote his beliefs. It is through education, tolerance and service to others that we will make the kind of impact he would be proud of.
"Thank you, and ¡Sí, se puede!"
Delgado lives in Los Angeles and is political director of the United Farm Workers.