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Fred Ross Jr.’s matchless organizing talents empowered farm and other workers

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Fred Ross Jr.’s matchless organizing talents empowered farm and other workers

It is with profound sadness that the Cesar Chavez Foundation mourns the passing of Fred Ross Jr., whose six-decade-long organizing career empowered poor and oppressed workers to overcome bigotry and exploitation through self-organization and collective action. His wife, Margo Feinberg, who shared his passion for empowering workers and time with family and friends, reported that Fred passed away on the evening of Sunday, November 20, having just celebrated his 75th birthday. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

His father, Fred Ross Sr., was a legendary community organizer who Cesar Chavez credited for “training me and inspiring me and being my hero.”

In his eulogy for Fred Ross Sr. in 1992, Cesar said his “deeds live on in the hundreds of organizers he trained and inspired. Not the least of them is his son, Fred Jr., who made his father very proud.” “Fred Ross Jr. was a good shepherd of his father’s legacy,” affirmed Cesar’s son, Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul F. Chavez. “Part of Fred Jr.’s mission was developing future generations of leaders and organizers among poor and working people—perhaps the greatest thing an organizer can achieve,” Paul Chavez said.

Fred Ross Jr. was born in Long Beach, Calif. in 1947. His mother, Frances Ross, also influenced her son, having pioneered services for the mentally ill. Fred Jr.’s early childhood was in Boyle Heights where his primary language was Spanish.

After graduating from Redwood High School in Marin County and U.C. Berkeley in 1970, Fred joined the United Farm Workers, helping organize that year’s giant Salinas and Santa Maria lettuce and vegetable strikes. In addition to his father, at the UFW Fred Jr. was trained and mentored by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. The next few years were spent organizing farm worker campaigns in Oregon and Washington state, and leading the boycotts of grapes, lettuce, and E.&J. Gallo wines in the Bay Area.

After taking office in January 1975, California’s new governor, Jerry Brown, was not responding to UFW calls for a farm labor law granting field laborers the rights to organize, vote in union elections, and negotiate with their employers.

So, Fred proposed and spearheaded the UFW’s high-profile march from San Francisco to Gallo’s Modesto headquarters. Nearly 20,000 workers and supporters filled the streets of Modesto on the last day of the trek, March 1, 1975. The next day the UFW got a call from the governor’s office. The following week Cesar Chavez and UFW General Counsel Jerry Cohen met Jerry Brown at his house in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Hills. Fred’s march on Gallo kick-started three months of negotiations producing the historic Agricultural Labor Relations Act. When the first farm elections began that year, Fred directed UFW organizing in the Santa Maria area.

Fred pursued the law, graduating in 1980 from the University of San Francisco Law School and working as a public defender. By 1985, he led Neighbor to Neighbor, turning the national grassroots organization into an effective foreign policy advocacy group challenging the Reagan administration’s murderous Contra War in Nicaragua and its backing of death squads in El Salvador. He used his organizing skills leading the 1987 San Francisco grassroots get-out-the-vote drive electing Nancy Pelosi to Congress.

By 1998, Fred returned to his labor roots by organizing health care and service workers for the Service Employees International Union. In 2009, he began crafting an innovative organizing program for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, recruiting, engaging, and training the next generation of organizers from the ranks of its members dedicated to social justice and union solidarity. Fred retired from the union in February 2022.

Fred spent this past year working with filmmaker Ray Telles on a full-length feature documentary about his father, showing how collective action can combat prejudice and greed.

The father, Fred Ross Sr., had remarkable achievements. But perhaps his best legacy was Fred Jr. Colleagues over many decades said Fred Jr.’s organizing talents matched anyone’s, including Cesar and Fred Sr. As with his father, Fred Jr.’s labors were never about himself. He was always about empowering others to believe and indeed know they were responsible for the progress they won. Fred Jr.’s nature was ceaselessly positive; he always thought things could be done.

Fred Ross Jr. is survived by his wife, Margo Feinberg, a union labor lawyer; their two children, Charley and Helen Ross, who were introduced to picket lines as toddlers; brother Bob Ross; sister Julia Ross; and a legion of loving friends and family members and generations of organizers.

In lieu of flowers, the Ross family asks that contributions go to the Fred Ross documentary project. Written condolences to the family may be sent to FredrossMemories@gmail.com

 

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Invitation to help mark the 10th anniversary of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene

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Invitation to help mark the 10th anniversary of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene

Community members are invited to help the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument celebrate 10 years to the day since President Obama journeyed to Keene, Calif. for dedication of the 398th unit of the National Park Service before 7,000 people on the historic grounds where the farm labor and civil rights leader lived and labored his last quarter century. A commemorative ceremony is set in the monument’s Memorial Garden located at 29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road in Keene starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022.

The event is free to the public and hosted by the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument and National Parks Service in partnership with the National Chavez Center, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, and National Park Foundation. Speakers include Chavez foundation President Paul F. Chavez; Frank Lands, regional director of the National Park Service; and Anne Stephan, superintendent of Chavez national monument. Visitors are invited to view new exhibits in the monument’s Visitor Center, get a special National Parks Passport commemorative cancellation stamp, and see the newly restored exterior of the modest nearby Chavez family home, where Cesar and Helen Chavez and their children resided.

The Chavez national monument was established on Oct. 8, 2012, by President Obama through Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to honor the life and work of Cesar Chavez, particularly his role as a 20th Century Latino civil rights leader and his passionate dedication to the American farm worker movement. The monument is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

For more information, check out César E. Chávez National Monument on Facebook.

Who: National Chavez Center, Cesar Chavez Foundation, National Park Foundation

What: 10th anniversary of the dedication by President Obama of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument

Where: Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, 29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road, Keene, Calif. 93531

When: 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022

 

   

 

 

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The Cesar Chavez Foundation and TERC Announce their New Program, AMPD4Math, that draws on students’ desire to help others

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The Cesar Chavez Foundation and TERC Announce their New Program, AMPD4Math, that draws on students’ desire to help others.

[September 21, 2022] – The Cesar Chavez Foundation and TERC will develop community-improvement projects that also help middle school youth learn mathematics as well as traditional and high-tech crafts. In one project, youth will design and build a system to collect rainwater for the gardening and harvesting of fresh vegetables in “food desert” areas. Makers from the community, such as welders or carpenters, will be recruited to build water tanks using students’ 3D-printed innovative irrigation system designs.

The Cesar Chavez Foundation will infuse this program with Cesar Chavez’s core values in connection with students’ experiences and their communities while TERC will provide support for the students to learn the mathematics skills they need to succeed in their future education and careers.

“I am thrilled that TERC and the Cesar Chavez Foundation can collaborate on this project to reach Latinx youth. For us, understanding and using mathematics is a matter of civil rights. Success in math opens doors to understanding and enacting change in the world and opens pathways to higher education opportunities for those who understand it,” shared Teresa Lara-Meloy, TERC Principal Investigator. “We believe that designing AMPD4Math alongside youth and their afterschool leaders is the way to ensure the programs’ relevance to youth and their communities. TERC brings to the program 50 years of experience in designing and researching innovative math and science programs with a focus on educational equity and justice.”

After its development and effectiveness tests, the Cesar Chavez Foundation will bring the program to 100,000 students across the Southwestern U.S. Dr. Celia Garcia Alvarado, Executive Vice President of Education & Co-Principal Investigator shared, “The aim of this program directly aligns to our Education Fund’s mission to build a just society by educating the hearts and minds of children through culturally responsive, diverse products and services in under-resourced communities. We are happy to work side-by-side with TERC on this innovative program that will authentically connect mathematics, community, and student voice.”

To learn more about AMPD4Math and get updates on their progress, visit www.terc.edu/projects/AMPD4Math.

The AMPD4Math project is funded by the National Science Foundation under the Advancing Informal Science Learning program under award number 2215382.

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Cesar Chavez family invited to join Mexican president celebrating ‘El Grito’ at National Palace before a big crowd on giant Zócalo Plaza

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Cesar Chavez family invited to join Mexican president celebrating ‘El Grito’ at National Palace before a big crowd on giant Zócalo Plaza

Mexico City (September 12, 2022) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has invited the family of U.S. civil rights and farm labor leader Cesar Chavez to join him in proclaiming “El Grito”—The Cry of Dolores—celebrating Mexican independence on Thursday evening, Sept. 15 from the National Palace before a large crowd assembled in the giant Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución.

Five of Chavez’s eight children—Sylvia Delgado, Eloise Carrillo, Paul Chavez, Elizabeth Villarino, and Anthony Chavez—will join the Mexican president and a distinguished group of current and former heads of state and other international figures for the annual historical commemoration akin to America’s 4th of July. Also present will be grandson Andres Chavez, executive director of the National Chavez Center, which preserves and promotes his grandfather’s legacy.

The invitation is part of a long relationship of cooperation between the farm worker movement and the government and people of Mexico. Cesar Chavez was awarded the Aguila Azteca (the Aztec Eagle), Mexico’s highest honor for people of Mexican heritage. The farm worker movement worked with the Mexican administration to cover U.S. farm workers in Mexico under the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, the Mexican healthcare system.

Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, issued the following statement from the National Chavez Center in the Tehachapi Mountain town of Keene, Calif., where his father lived and labored his last quarter century, and where he and his wife Helen are buried. It also hosts the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, administered in partnership between the National Park Service and the National Chavez Center.

The Chavez family and farm worker movement express our gratitude to President Lopez Obrador and the government and people of Mexico for including us in this annual historical observation. We are proud of our ancestry and honored to participate in the president’s proclamation of El Grito that inspires people from both sides of the border.

Mexican Independence Day, Sept. 16, also marks the anniversary of when Cesar Chavez’s mostly Latino union joined Filipino workers by striking Delano, Calif.-area table and wine grape growers in 1965. That sparked a five-year-long landmark grape strike and a three-year-long international grape boycott.

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Latino Conservation Week: An Interview with Andres Chavez

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In honor of Latino Conservation Week, we sat down with the National Chavez Center’s (NCC) Executive Director Andres Chavez to learn about the NCC’s role in preserving the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the importance of landmarks that have been paramount for the Latino civil rights movement.

What is the role of the NCC in preserving Latino history and places?

The core of our work at the National Chavez Center is preserving Cesar Chavez’s legacy and ensuring its relevance. Cesar is the most recognizable Latino civil rights leader of the 20th century. The impact of the farm worker movement he founded and helped inspire extends well beyond the fields. What people saw in Cesar and the farm workers was that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. He said the movement sent out a message to all Latinos that if farm workers could bring change to the fields, it could happen anywhere. Preserving and telling this story is important and necessary because it’s an important part of America’s story. In 2012 the César E. Chávez National Monument—where my grandfather lived and labored his last quarter century at the Tehachapi Mountain town of Keene, Calif.—became the 398th unit of the National Parks Service. It’s the first and only national monument honoring a contemporary Latino figure. Our hope is that this national monument is the first of many to tell the story of Latinos in this nation.

Cesar Chavez is considered a forefather of environmental justice. What part of your grandfather’s legacy are you hoping to cultivate at NCC?

Most people know my Tata Cesar for his work organizing farm workers. Relatively few know about all of his other endeavors and interests. My Tata was a fascinating and complex person with an eclectic curiosity. This is best seen in the library of his office at the Chavez National Monument. The diversity of subjects and titles is incredible. Part of our plan is telling the world more about the Cesar we know. For example, sharing with folks his love for classic jazz music, about how he daily practiced yoga and meditation and his work as a social entrepreneur, just to name a few. His work in environmental justice is certainly an area we want to share more about. For example, the first time DDT was banned in the United States was not by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the mid-1970s, but in United Farm Workers’ contracts with wine grape growers in the late 1960s. My Tata’s last and longest public fast, of 36 days, was in Delano in 1988 over the pesticide poisoning of farm workers and their children.

Why is preserving Latino history through stories and historical landmarks and monuments important?

The mission of the National Park Service is to tell the story of America. Yet former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the story of America couldn’t properly be told without also telling the story of Latinos in America. That’s why Secretary Salazar helped convince President Obama to establish the Chavez National Monument in 2012. That is why it is so important to share more of the diverse history of Latinos with all of the American people—and to get students and others to visit these historical sites.

What is the significance of the National Chavez Center site at Keene?

The National Chavez Center in the Tehachapi Mountains town of Keene, California, had an incredible history prior to when my Tata Cesar and the farm worker movement stepped foot on the grounds. As a kid, I remember running around the 187-acre property and coming across boulders with grinding stones carved into them. Later, I learned the indigenous people of the Kawaiisu tribe lived in and around the area. The site was later owned by the County of Kern and was home to the Stony Brook Retreat, a tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1971 the site became the headquarters of the farm worker movement and was named by my grandfather Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), commonly referred to as La Paz. Interestingly, my Nana Helen Chavez had lived there as a child. She was treated poorly there, so when Tata Cesar wanted to move there, she initially refused.

My Tata’s life was filled with conflict. La Paz was where he began building a community of fellow movement members and volunteers who worked with him full-time for social justice. It became a spiritual harbor for him and other movement staff, who were “paid” $5 a week (doubled to $10 a week in the late ’70s) plus room and board. La Paz offered them respite from tough struggles in the fields and cities. You can learn more about the story by visiting the Chavez National Monument and watching the video in the Visitors Center.

Does NCC consist of any other places?

The National Chavez Center owns and manages two historic properties, the NCC in Keene and the historic “Forty Acres” complex outside Delano. The Forty Acres, in Delano, where the movement was founded and where it was headquartered until 1971, includes a co-op service station where farm workers could buy cheap gas and repair their vehicles, a health clinic, movement offices, a union hall, and the Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village finished in 1974 for elderly and displaced Filipino farm workers with no decent place to live their final years.

Does the NCC advocate to preserve Latino heritage?

Most recently, I testified before Congress in support of H.R. 8046, which would establish a Cesar E. Chavez and Farm Worker Movement National Park in California and Arizona. The NCC works closely with the National Park Service in developing exhibits and programs around the farm worker movement and interpreting its significance for Latinos and all Americans. We have testified and lobbied for state legislation honoring the Filipino farm workers’ contributions to farm labor history, including establishing a Larry Itliong Day in California on October 25 of each year. In 2011 the National Chavez Center hosted Telling America’s Story: American Latino Heritage Initiative La Paz Forum. At this forum, folks from National Parks Service superintendents from across the country gathered to discuss the role of Latinos in American history.

 

As executive director of the National Chavez Center (NCC), Andres Chavez, 28, leads the arm of the Cesar Chavez Foundation that educates and promotes his grandfather’s legacy across the nation. He also oversees two historic properties, including La Paz in Keene, Calif., where Chavez lived and labored his last quarter century, a portion of which is now the César E. Chávez National Monument that the NCC manages in partnership with the National Park Service.