Cesar Chavez and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement
In the mid-1960s thousands of Chicanos, people of Mexican descent, walked off the California grape fields in which they worked in protest of exploitation and poor working conditions. They wanted fair wages, better working conditions, and education for their children. They wanted all the opportunities that were extended to other Americans. Among the disgruntled employees was the soft-spoken César Chávez, who believed that his people’s plight could be resolved through the mechanism of non-violent protests. Chief among these mechanisms were his firm belief in fasting and non-violent strikes. These beliefs were the combined result of his childhood experiences, significant encounters with influential persons, educational pursuits and his religious persuasions. The use of these non-violent mechanisms consequently brought national awareness to the Chicano workers’ cause and an inevitable solution to their plight. Hence, it can be argued that César Chávez’s firm belief in fasting and non-violent protests were pivotal factors which had an influential effect on the Chicano’s civil rights movement.
The formative years of César Chávez
The formative years of César Chávez contributed significantly to his future role as a civil rights advocate for the Chicanos and other migrant workers. These formative years comprised many experiences which helped to carve and create the principles and identity that Chávez firmly upheld. These lasting experiences which spanned many decades began during his adolescent period and continued well into his adult life. The first of these experiences was the loss of Chávez’s family farm, land, and business during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. During this emotional era in American history Chávez’s father Librado lost the family farm and business in 1939 due to the family’s inability to pay taxes (The Rhetorical 12). This event was significant since it introduced the young Chávez to the indigent life of migrant workers which was plagued with many hardships, turmoil, and never-ending misery. These migrant workers, who were mainly Mexican Americans and other illegal immigrants, were at the mercy of farm owners who exploited then in many ways. For instance, newcomers such as Chávez’s family often fell prey to the devices of the unjust farm owners. For example, in one memorable incident the Chávez family was hired by a contractor who had failed to pay the family even after they had worked for him for seven weeks. The contractor’s inability to pay was linked to the poor quality of his grapes which yielded a very low price from the wineries. Thus, in order to maximize his profits he chose not to pay the Chávez family, and one morning he simply disappeared, leaving the family destitute (Taylor 60). In addition to these events of deceit, the wages and living conditions afforded to migrant workers were far less than humane. For instance, migrant workers often earned wages of about two dollars a day up to $2500 per year (NLCC Educational Media). Such meager wages could not support an entire family even in situations where every family member was employed. Thus, these minimal wages resulted in malnourished workers who were underfed and were not properly clothed even during the harsh winter period. One such notable experience was highlighted by Chávez when he described his barefooted journeys to school in the cold mud during the winter of 1938 (The Rhetorical Career 13). Moreover, the inadequate income resulted in the lack of suitable housing. Thus, migrant workers were forced to resort to deplorable unsanitary living conditions which comprised of overcrowded places, tents, open fields, and even underneath bridges (Nelson 49). The education received by the children of migrant workers was in no way comparable to that received by their ordinary blue-eyed American counterparts. First, the migratory nature of migrant families severely affected the...
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