Cesar Chavez on Nonviolence, Salinas,1970

Robert Kennedy Questions Kern County Sheriff, 1996

Leroy Chatfield Talks About Cesar's 1968 Fast

Richard Chavez Tells How The Farmworker Eagle was Created

Dolores Huerta Talks About Becoming an Organizer

Herman Gallegos Tells a Story About Cesar's Principles

Jessie de la Cruz on the Union Surviving Cesar's Death

Excerpt from the Companion Book:
The Death of the Short-Handled Hoe
By Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval

 

CESAR CHAVEZ ON NON VIOLENCE, SALINAS, 1970

We maintain that you cannot really be effective in anything you are doing if you are so loaded with violence that you cannot think rationally about what you have to do. Also, it's a drag to be so upset at things it immobilizes you, so you're very mad, you can't do things, you can't correct injustices because somehow, you are not yet realized that the power of nonviolence is really nothing more than love. We know that violence works. I'm not going to say it doesn't work. Total violence still works and is working many places. I disagree that the long lessons, that it has long-lasting good results. I disagree with that. But violence works only when it's total violence, and nonviolence works only when it's total nonviolence. And you can't have anything in between ...in our struggle the type of nonviolence that we advocate is not the rhetoric of non violence and all the beautiful phrases that come out of it. But it's just a very simple way of life. We say that tactically nonviolence is extremely effective. But we say even more. We say that the philosophy as a way of life perhaps is even more important...

 

ROBERT KENNEDY QUESTIONS KERN COUNTY SHERIFF, 1966



Sheriff: Well, if we have reason to believe there's going to be a riot started, somebody tells me there's going to be trouble if you don't stop them, then its my duty to stop them.

RFK: You go out there and arrest them?

Sheriff: Absolutely.

RFK: Who told you that they were going to riot?

Sheriff: The men right out in the field that they were talking to said if you don't get them out of here we're going to cut their hearts out. So rather than letting them get cut you remove the cause.

RFK: This is a most interesting concept, I think, that you suddenly hear talk about that somebody makes a report about somebody's going to get out of order, perhaps violate the law, and you go in and arrest them, and they haven't done anything wrong. How do you go arrest somebody if they haven't violated the law?

Sheriff: They are ready to violate the law,in other words... just like these labor people out here...

RFK: Could I suggest in the interim period of time, in the luncheon period of time, that the sheriff and the district attorney read the Constitution of the United States.

 

LEROY CHATFIELD TALKS ABOUT CESAR'S 1968 FAST

I think Cesar was very concerned about the increasing call um, by union supporters and some union members themselves for violence. Cesar was very, very committed to nonviolence. Preached nonviolence. Practiced nonviolence. Um, read Ghandi constantly and it, he, he was searching for some personal statement that he could make as the leader of the movement that would reinforce the value of nonviolence at least as he saw it. And uh, I knew ahead of time that he was planning a fast because he told me that he was practicing fasting and he would practice for two or three days at a time. And found it extremely painful and difficult. And told me that he didn't think that he could actually do it or wasn't sure he could do it. But, but he was committed to doing something. Um, now I, I was quite taken aback when he actually announced that he had started his fast and that he was going to withdraw to the forty acres, the union complex and stay there until he completed it. I didn't know the details of what he had planned. But I wasn't surprised at the idea of a fast but it was quite a shocking event. First of all within the union it caused a lot of uh, consternation and disarray, uh, bickering, pros and cons. Um, sort of a debate um, broke out in the auditorium after he left. Uh, the first person to leave to follow him was his wife Helen and she said that she was going to leave to go to the forty acres and be with Cesar. And then the debate sort of waged. And um, we all had our say and I had my say that basically the forty acres (UFWOC headquarters in Delano) was going to be considered holy ground in view of the fact that Cesar had chosen the forty acres to conduct a personal fast and that no cars would be permitted to drive on the forty acres, people would have to walk on and off.

 

RICHARD CHAVEZ TELLS HOW THE FARMWORKER EAGLE WAS CREATED

There's some stories that I will always remember my brother by because they're very dear to my heart. One of them is, when he commissioned me to come up with a logo, come up with an emblem for the movement, for the union, and he said, "Like what?" I said, "Like what do you have in mind?" He says, "Well, I don't know, maybe an eagle of some type like, that shows strength, something that shows power." I said, "OK," so we kind of, I sat down and I kind of copied the Mexican eagle, you know, freehand, very powerful, without the snake, sitting on top of grape vines or something like that. And it was kind of nice, it was kind of a nice. When he looked at it he liked it, and said, "This is very nice," he said, "but you know what, people won't be able to reproduce this. We want something that anybody can reproduce, or could be reproduced fast and easy-like." And so I went back and I started thinking, "What can people reproduce? Not everybody's an artist?" And so I says, "Well, maybe straight lines, straight corners and that sort of thing." So I come up with the idea of the thunderbird. And I had the first drawing and I had the basic, the idea, I had the idea of what it would be like and I took it to him and everything but it wasn't quite the idea of straight lines and square corners and all that was fine, but what he didn't like was that, I had two little feet on the thunderbird, they looked like chicken feet. It just didn't look good, there was something wrong. He says, "there's something here. Take it back see if you can." So I took it back and kind of, yeah, those little feet looked stupid, they didn't go with it. So I thought about it and thought about it and finally came up with that bar, you know that little long bar in the bottom, instead of feet he's got that bar. "This is it!" I thought I had found it, and I took it to him and they just loved it, everybody agreed that that was it, and so, we had it. That was the end of it. He says, "You do the artwork on it, you come up with a design and the colors are mine."

 

DOLORES HUERTA TALKS ABOUT BECOMING AN ORGANIZER



I was always organizing, belonging to different organizations that were doing things. I belonged to a group where we organized the Comision Honorifica which organized the 15th of September and 5 de mayo celebrations. So I already had a reputation as an activist. So when Fred Ross came to Stockton and he was organizing CSO then I was one of the people that was invited to that meeting, to a house meeting and that's where I met Fred. Of course when Fred spelled out what CSO could do or what people could do if they got together, and this is of course something I had been looking for all my life. I had been involved in a lot of different organizations to try to do something for the community but they never did as much as I thought should be done. So it very, for me it was very, when Fred showed us pictures of people in Los Angeles that had come together that had organized, that had fought the police and won, that had built health clinics, that had gotten people elected to office I just felt like I had found a pot of gold! If organizing could make this happen, then this is definitely something that I want to be a part of.

 

HERMAN GALLEGOS TELLS A STORY ABOUT CESAR'S PRINCIPLES

One of the early examples that I witnessed that showed what kind of a strong support system Cesar had from his family, but particularly from Helen Chavez, happened one Christmas Eve, some years ago, around 1952, when we had been out doing some community work, and it was getting on to dusk and it was about time for us to return to our homes. And one of the ministers from a local church spotted us and asked us if we wouldn't mind distributing a few Christmas boxes of food to people. We said sure, we'd be happy to do that. So we went to one home and um, they took the box, eagerly, went to several other homes, and either no one was home, or they had already had a box, and so time was getting on, and I felt the pressure to get home, it was Christmas Eve. And, so I drove to Cesar, and we were still talking about who should be given this box. We pulled up in front of Cesar's home, very tiny little home, very modest home, and uh, so I said to Cesar, I said, "I know, you take it, I mean you're not working, and it's Christmas Eve, and I'm sure you could use it." He said, "No, no, no, I can't take it." I said, "Cesar, look, uh, I know you haven't been working, I know you can use the food. It's not that much anyway, besides, you know, Helen can use it." So we went inside still arguing about this. And Helen was, this was Christmas Eve, there was no Christmas tree, no turkey, no pies, it was Helen invited me to have a bean burrito. I said, "yeah, sure, but I've got to get going home." And I looked around, I said, "Helen, you know we have a box of food there and I really think you should take it. Cesar doesn't want to take it." Helen smiled at me and looked at me and looked at Cesar, says, "you know Cesar." And I said, "but you've got to." And so Cesar and I resumed the discussion, and he says "look, you know I can't take it, and you know why."

 

JESSIE DE LA CRUZ ON THE UNION SURVIVING AFTER CESAR'S DEATH

We used to attend all the meetings in Delano, and all the ones at La Paz, and every time we had a meeting, Cesar would tell us, he said 'We don't want the same thing to happen to the union as it did Martin Luther King. After he died, everything went. And I want you to know that when I die, I want this to keep on. If the top figure is gone, you move up from the staff, you know, move up a step. And those in charge should see to it that the work keeps going on for the union. Because if this dies, that means all the work that I did through all these years was in vain.

 

FROM THE COMPANION BOOK
By Susan Ferriss and Ricardo Sandoval

 

THE DEATH OF THE SHORT-HANDLED HOE

In early 1968, California Rural Legal Assistance lawyer Maurice "Mo" Jourdane was shooting pool in a smoky cantina in Soledad, California, when a small band of farmworkers approached him, a couple of them walking with a rigid gait that spoke of constant pain. The men stopped to talk with Henry Cantu and Hector de la Rosa, Jourdane's billiards partners, who were outreach workers with CRLA. Cantu then translated a simple challenge from the workers to Jourdane: "If you really want to help the campesino, get rid of el cortito-the short-handled hoe."



El Cortito, "the short one," was a hoe that was only twenty-four inches long, forcing the farmworkers who used it to bend and stoop all day long-a position that often led to lifelong, debilitating back injuries. The pool-room meeting with a handful of its victims led Jourdane to try working in nearby fields for two days. Within weeks of experiencing firsthand the pain el cortito caused, he and other CRLA attorneys began a seven-year battle to outlaw the most insidious tool ever used by California agriculture.

For Cesar Chavez, who played a pivotal role in the long drama, there were few greater moments than when el cortito was finally banished from California's fields in 1975. In his youth, Chavez knew the hoe well, having used it to thin countless rows of lettuce and to weed sugar-beet fields along the Sacramento River. Later he would say he never looked at a head of lettuce in a market without thinking of how laborers had suffered for it from seed to harvest. "[Growers] look at human beings as implements. But if they had any consideration for the torture that people go through, they would give up the short-handled hoe," Cesar said in 1969.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, el cortito was the most potent symbol of all that was wrong with farmwork in California: The tool was unnecessary, and farmers in most other states had long switched to longer hoes. Growers argued that without the control the short hoe offered, thinning and weeding would be mishandled, crop losses would mount, and some farmers would go bankrupt. As he prepared to take on California farmers, Jourdane quizzed many physicians-including Cesar Chavez's back specialist-who said that without a doubt, the hoe was responsible for the debilitating back pain experienced by many of their farmworker patients.

Jourdane was elated when he was finally able, in 1972, to tell Chavez that the first formal complaint had been submitted to the state's Division of Industrial Safety. The lead plaintiff was 46-year-old farmworker Sebastian Carmona. "I came from Texas in 1959 and had never seen a short-handled hoe," said Carmona during his legal battle. "It surprised me, but I thought I'd be able to handle it because it was smaller [than normal]. The first day, when I needed money for my family, I felt a tightness, but I was okay. The second, third, fourth days, it got worse and worse"-so much so that Carmona would feel a hot pain in his back each time he'd stand erect at the end of a row.

The DIS rejected the attorney's claim, but the state supreme court overturned that ruling, finding that the tool was a danger to laborers' health because it could only be used while stooping. A long-handled hoe, the court said, was just as useful. "Getting rid of the hoe felt as good as anything in my career," said Jourdane, now a retired state judge. "It was flat-out a symbol of oppression-a way to keep control of workers and make them live humbled, stooped-over lives."

The supreme court ruling failed to move state regulators, however, who in 1975 still had not written rules forbidding the hoe's use. A frustrated Jourdane called the UFW, which contacted the new governor, Jerry Brown. Under executive pressure from Brown, the bureaucrats finally wrote el cortito out of the fields.

But the tool refused to die. In 1985, as part of a drive to streamline government rules, state safety officials amended the 1975 law banning the hoe, saying workers could be required to use the tool for five minutes each hour. The resulting howl from farmworkers forced new hearings that quickly killed the proposal. Former farmworker Jessie De La Cruz, who once told a grower that with el cortito, "I measured your land inch by inch," spoke at those hearings and invited state and federal officials to rise and do more than imagine what using a short-handled hoe was like. "I told them... just stand up and hold the tips of your shoes and walk up and down this room and see how many times you can do it."