Cesar Chavez Day: Is This Any Way to Run a Holiday?


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

America.

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.

"If

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.

That

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

just the features by Frank Bardacke in the Nation or Marc Cooper

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

Synanon.

The last thing America needs is another man who is

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.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >