I suppose, if Cesar Chavez's birthday is ever to be made into a serious holiday, some bumps are inevitable. Today, Monday, March 30, Los Angeles shut its offices and libraries.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, is the state's turn, as the DMV, Superior Courts and other offices and services will be closed on what is Chavez's birth date. And, just to remind us that it's not a legal holiday yet, all federal and county offices will remain open both days.
Photo: Joel Levine at Wikipedia
There's been talk of trading an already existing holiday to make up for the removal of another work day from the calendar, a proposal that probably makes a lot of practical political sense. (Remember how hard it was getting Martin Luther King's birthday accepted in all 50 states?) But will that be taken as an insult by Mexican Americans, who can point to King's holiday not having to be "traded" for another? Equally touchy is the issue of which holiday to swap. It's not going to be Christmas, nor is it going to be that that most Anglo of celebrations, Thanksgiving. Columbus Day? Fuggettaboudit!
I would suggest Memorial Day, as we already have one war-related
holiday (Veterans Day) and of the two, Memorial Day falls closest to
Chavez's birthday. Or possibly Labor Day, since Chavez was, after all
the creator of one of the most dynamic organizations of workers in
I remember how much Chavez was revered among the farm workers in the
San Joaquin Valley during the height of the United Farm Workers
organizing drive against the orchards and vineyards around Fresno in
the summer of 1973. It wasn't just the Mexicans, either, but the
Syrian, Palestinian, Filipino and Armenian workers too. Chavez did not
carry a saint's aura around him -- that was placed on him by his
followers, who would speak of him in small parks in places like
Parlier, Sanger and Fowler, as though he were a personal savior.
Cesar saw you drinking a Coors, he'd knock the can right out of your
hand," a man once marveled to me, at a time when Chavez' arch rivals in
the Teamsters union were engaged in a strike against Coors beer. Today,
16 years after his death, Chavez mostly lives on only in the
iconography of his movement -- in idealized, Che-like portraits or
reproductions of the UFW's red and black Aztec-eagle flag.
kind of public indifference outside of Latino-dominated towns and
coastal cities may determine whether the Chavez holiday ever truly gets
off the ground. That, and revelations about Chavez and the organization
that he left behind that have trickled out since his death. It's not
in this publication -- stories that recorded just how ineffectual the
UFW has become. Far more damaging were allegations, printed by the L.A. Times in
2006, of Chavez's nepotism and vindictiveness -- as well as his
transformation of the UFW into a personal kingdom run on the
encounter-group principles developed by the cultish organization
The last thing America needs is another man who is
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presented as a saint or savior (even if he is the kind who's willling
to knock a beer out of your hand), and supporters of Chavez Day will
have to prepare for a hard battle if they are to get March 31 declared
a national holiday. It could be Chavez's longest march yet.