Thursday, March 31, 2011

Celebrating Cesar Chavez: Anti-illegal alien activist

March 31st is Cesar Chavez's birthday. California state workers (but not teachers) are home right now on a state-paid holiday to observe the birthday of the former head of the United Farm Workers.

Two of my fellow teachers at my site are Chicano activists who have a poster in their classrooms that reads No Human is Illegal! They also unsurprisingly revere Cesar Chavez. How ironic that if Cesar Chavez in his heyday had walked into these two classrooms and saw those posters, he would have shaken his head in disgust.

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating, that when Cesar Chavez was fighting for higher wages and better working conditions for southwestern farm workers, he despised illegal immigration, and went so far as to alert la migra - the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) - about cases of illegal immigrants working in the fields.

In 2005, newspaper columnist Ruben Navarette wrote a piece in which he praised then-President Bush's plan to put 2,000 more Border Patrol officers to work on our southern border. This got Navarette an invitation from the Minutemen to join them at the border. It turns out that Navarette was not a fan of the work of the Minutemen, and he turned down their invitation. But there was more to this story, and in telling it, Navarette fills us in on Chavez's work to curb illegal immigration:
The same column that got me the invitation to join the Minutemen also got me in hot water with some Mexican-American students at San Diego State University...

Here's the ironic part: Despite the fact that Chávez is these days revered among Mexican-American activists, the labor leader in his day was no more tolerant of illegal immigration than the Arizona Minutemen are now. Worried that the hiring of illegal immigrants drove down wages, Chávez – according to numerous historical accounts – instructed union members to call the Immigration and Naturalization Service to report the presence of illegal immigrants in the fields and demand that the agency deport them. UFW officials were even known to picket INS offices to demand a crackdown on illegal immigrants.

And in 1973, in one of the most disgraceful chapters in UFW history, the union set up a "wet line" to prevent Mexican immigrants from entering the United States. Under the guidance of Chávez 's cousin, Manuel, UFW members tried at first to convince the immigrants not to cross. When that didn't work, they physically attacked the immigrants and left some bloody in the process. It happened in the same place that the Minutemen are now planning to gather: the Arizona-Mexico border.

At the time,
The Village Voice said that the UFW conducted a "campaign of random terror against anyone hapless enough to fall into its net." In their book, "The Fight in the Fields," Susan Ferris and Ricardo Sandoval recall the border incident and write that the issue of how to deal with the undocumented was "particularly vexing" for Chávez....
What I find vexing is watching all these supporters of illegal immigration yelling "Viva!" to Cesar Chavez, even though he opposed that which they fanatically support.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


Larry Sheldon said...

That's history. We don't need any stinking history in our schools.

Anonymous said...

From the "Ask a Mexican" column. Somewhat of a counterpoint to the assertion that Chavez was against illegal immigration outright:

"I will! Yes, Virginia: Not only was Cesar Chavez against illegal immigration, not only did he speak out against the Mexican invasion before Congress, not only did United Farm Workers members monitor the United States-Mexico border à la the Minutemen, but Chavez even sicced la migra on the undocumented from time to time. The curious case of Chavez and his evolving views on illegal immigration is best explained in University of California, San Diego professor David G. Gutierrez's 1995 book, Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. There, the good profe documents how the position of the union leader regarding illegal immigration changed under pressure from Chicano yaktivists. Know Nothings love to repeat Chavez's initial hatred of open borders, so much so that a page on the UFW's Web site now claims Chavez was against scabs, not illegal immigration, despite reams of evidence to the contrary. But pointing out Chavez's original opposition to illegal immigration as validation of one's anti-immigrant views while disregarding his Aztlanista tendencies is like homophobes basing their bigotry on the Old Testament while not bothering to follow the Nazarene's insistence on loving thy neighbor. Confused-o Gringo-o: find a better icon to cherry pick for your rhetorical needs — unless you believe in the supremacy of la raza above everyone else, that is."

W.R. Chandler said...

I already did "ask a Mexican": Ruben Navarette. He is not even a source who is very sympathetic to my views.

As far as Chavez's change of heart, he was much more credible in the '60s and '70s on most subjects than he was beginning in the '80s. After that, he seemed to sort of lose his marbles, and got away from working for the rights of farm workers.

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