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A Shared Vision: Cesar Chavez and the Black Panthers

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In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting Cesar Chavez and the farm worker movement’s deep roots and successful collaborations with the Black Panther Party and African American activism in Oakland.

Before starting to build what became the United Farm Workers in 1962, Cesar helped organize and lead the Community Service Organization, California’s largest and most effective Latino civil rights group in the 1950s and early ‘60s. The first CSO chapter Cesar organized on his own was in West Oakland around 1953.

Founded in Oakland in 1966, The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was ideologically rooted in Black Power, self-determination, and the right to defend oneself against oppressive systems. It quickly gained the trust and respect of Black community members thanks to its Community Survival Programs such as free breakfasts, health clinics, food banks, health clinics, and more.

Greeting young African American children in Oakland (from left) Cesar Chavez, Bobby Seale, and Chavez aide Richard Ybarra.

In its early years, the UFW organized farm workers by providing them with services such as a credit union, death benefit insurance, a service station where migrants could buy cheap gas and fix their cars, and service centers to help them with myriad problems. Cesar and his colleagues believed workers weren’t just workers. While only a union could remedy abuses in the fields, workers faced other crippling dilemmas when they returned to their communities. So, it would take more than a union to overcome those dilemmas; it would take a movement.

Black Panther founders and early leaders Bobby Seale and Huey Newton emphasized dismantling systemic injustice. By focusing on the laws, bureaucratic structures, and economic incentives that maintain white supremacy and capitalism, they strove to dismantle them from the roots.

Meantime, from the UFW’s inception, Cesar Chavez inspired farm workers to challenge and overcome a farm labor system in this country that treats them as if they are not important human beings—as if they are beasts of burden—through self-organization and collective action.

Those visions perfectly positioned the Panthers and the UFW to share a commonality of missions and led them to support each other’s struggles.

Walking precincts in West Oakland in the mid-1970s (from left) U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, Alameda County Supervisor John George, Cesar Chavez, and Assemblymember Tom Bates.

The Panthers joined the UFW’s international boycott of California table grapes in the late 1960s by picketing major supermarkets in Oakland. They supported farm worker boycotts of grapes, lettuce, and Gallo wine in the early-to-mid ’70s. The party refused donations to its free breakfast program from boycotted stores and organized carpools to shuttle shoppers to other markets.

Cesar and the UFW campaigned to send Ron Dellums to Congress in 1970, the first African American ever elected from Oakland. Cesar and the farm workers worked with the Panthers in Bobby Seale’s unsuccessful 1973 run for Oakland mayor, and in 1977, they helped elect Lionel Wilson, the first African American mayor of Oakland. Cesar walked precincts in West Oakland alongside African American elected officials.

Throughout their decades-long connection, each organization supported the other. The inspiration from their model of multi-racial solidarity is perhaps more relevant in this time of increasing polarization and ideological entrenchment. Their alliance is a reminder that authentic coalition building is possible when we connect through a larger shared vision for systemic change.

Would you like to know more about Cesar Chavez’s legacy? Please visit the National Chavez Center, an organization that is committed to promoting and conserving the memory of Cesar Chavez through his words and images, and the place where he lived during the last quarter century of his life – the César E. Chávez National Monument.

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Announcing the 2024 Speakers Bureau

The National Chavez Center Speakers Bureau is a year-round program dedicated to sharing the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez. Official Speakers and representatives from the National Chavez Center present at nationwide conferences, community-based events, marches, universities and more, lending contemporary meaning to Cesar’s core beliefs and values.  To learn more or to request a speaker, please submit a Speakers Request Form.

2024 Speakers Bureau

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Board of Directors Announces Paul Chavez’s Retirement

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The Cesar Chavez Foundation (CCF) Board of Directors announces President Paul Chavez’s retirement at year’s end. During more than 30 years with CCF, Paul Chavez has ensured the legacy and values of his father continue inspiring people to make a difference in their lives and communities. Under his leadership, CCF has grown and transformed into a successful collection of social enterprises supporting millions of Latinos and working families, inspiring and transforming communities from rural to urban areas throughout the Southwest and across the generations. We thank Paul for his unwavering determination, guidance, and his nearly 50 years of commitment to the movement.

The Board of Directors has named CCF’s Chief Operating Officer Manuel Bernal to succeed Paul Chavez as president. Manuel has spent nearly 35 years in community development and a quarter century in leadership roles crafting a vision for CCF. He first joined the foundation in 1999, and until 2011 was Executive Vice President for Housing and Economic Development. Then, he served on the Board of Directors until 2017. Most recently, as chief operating officer, overseeing CCF’s four core programs: affordable housing, education, communications, and legacy work. Manuel’s roots and passion for community development have provided a strong vision for CCF’s future.

We have full confidence in Manuel’s vision for CCF and wish him success in his new role. Following his retirement, Paul will continue to serve on CCF’s Board of Directors and will continue serving farm worker movement organizations as a member of their boards. We wish Paul a happy retirement and thank him for his service in expanding our impact inspiring and transforming communities. We stand ready to support Manuel as he guides the organization forward.

Sincerely,
Cesar Chavez Foundation Board of Directors

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Celebration of Labor Leader Cesar Chavez through Photo Exhibition at William & Mary

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William & Mary University celebrated Latinx Heritage Month with a photo exhibition commemorating the life of Cesar Chavez.

The exhibition “Cesar Chavez: Legacy of a Leader” displayed 30 historic black and white photographs from the National Chavez Center archives. The exhibition gave an overview of the life and work of Cesar Chavez, beginning with his early life on an Arizona homestead and highlighting his efforts to unite farm workers through community organizing, labor strikes, marches, and boycotts. Notably, the exhibition focused on the 1965 Delano, California, grape strike, a turning point in the American labor movement.

The Muscarelle Museum of Art’s director of engagement, Steve Prince, and facilities and exhibitions manager, Kevin Gilliam, curated the exhibition. The Center for Student Diversity organized it with the aim of acknowledging and celebrating the achievements and contributions of Latinx students, faculty, and staff to the William & Mary community.

Andres Chavez, the executive director of the National Chavez Center and Cesar Chavez’s grandson, stated, “Partnerships like this are an opportunity for us to re-introduce Cesar Chavez to modern audiences and in modern contexts.” He added that Cesar’s legacy is widespread and nuanced, and they are thrilled to share it with students and scholars from across the United States as they lead up to the centennial of Cesar Chavez’s birth in 2027.

The grand opening of “Cesar Chavez: Legacy of a Leader” was held on September 22 and featured a keynote speech by Arturo Rodriguez, president emeritus of the UFW, who was its president for 25 years after Cesar Chavez’s death.

Eric Romero, director of archives at the National Chavez Center, and Prince conducted a community flag-making event with students at Lafayette High School. The event was based on the historic UFW work of boycotts, strikes, and marches. Members and supporters of the UFW would gather in community spaces to design and produce picket signs, banners, and flags for the movement. According to Romero, “This show is a great opportunity for us to strengthen our outreach programs and begin sharing our organizational archives to find meaningful historical documents that showcase the legacy of Cesar Chavez.”

Looking to learn more about the archives at the National Chavez Center? The National Chavez Center believes in sharing its history by connecting with diverse communities. For more information, please contact Eric Romero at eromero@chavezfoundation.org.

About William & Mary

The second-oldest institution of higher learning in the country and a cutting-edge research university. Building on more than 300 years of innovation and excellence, William & Mary transcends the boundaries between research and teaching, teaching and learning, learning and living. As a “Public Ivy” — one of only eight in the nation — we offer a world-class education at an exceptional value.

Credit: This news post was originally published by William & Mary.

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Stop AAPI Hate Interviews Marc Grossman, Spokesperson for the Chavez Foundation

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To honor both Hispanic Heritage Month and Filipino American History Month, Stop AAPI Hate spoke with Marc Grossman, spokesperson for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, on the legacy of cross-racial solidarity between Filipino and Mexican-American farmworkers. In the interview, Grossman shared his personal experiences with Cesar Chavez and the movement, as well as how the Foundation continues to promote and uphold social justice and cross-racial solidarity. Keep reading for their full conversation:

 

How did you meet César Chavez? 

Marc: I came of age, socially and politically, in the 1960s. I did my undergraduate work in American history at the University of California, Irvine. Farm labor history was something I took an interest in. I guess at some point, I figured out that it would be a lot more interesting to be a part of history than to just read about it.

This was during the time of the Delano Grape Strike and Boycott — and so, after class and on weekends, I picketed supermarkets. I’d join car caravans bringing food and clothes to the striking workers in Delano. The first time I met César was at Filipino Hall, where the caravans ended up. But I really got to know him through his eldest son, Fernando; we’ve been close friends since we were both 19- or 20-year-old college students. I knew César the last 24 years of his life, and this is my 54th year with the movement.

What a time to be a part of the labor movement! Can you tell me more about César’s decision to join the Delano Grape Strike? At that point, what was the relationship between Latino and Filipino farmworkers? 

Marc: To answer that question, you have to go back to 1962, when César Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, and others started the NFWA — what became the United Farm Workers (UFW). You know, the genesis of their activism was not labor organizing. It was community organizing. And while they understood only a union could overcome abuses in the fields, they were also convinced that when the workers left the job site and returned to their communities, they faced crippling dilemmas having to do with race, language, and ethnicity. This was real discrimination and they believed it would take more than a union to overcome these dilemmas. It would take a movement.

The UFW helped pioneer several labor innovations. The first was solidarity between the races because they knew from studying history that the way growers broke field strikes and crushed unions was by pitting the races against each other. They used Latinos to break the Filipino strikes and Filipinos to break Latino strikes.

So, when Larry Itliong asked César and the UFW to join the picket lines, they didn’t think they had a choice. They insisted that grape strikers of both races share the same picket lines, the same union hall, and the same strike kitchen. That was unequivocal. It’s true — a few members of César’s union — Chicano nationalists — objected to joining the Filipino farmworkers, and asked to put it to a union vote. And César told them he believed in union democracy, but he didn’t think you should vote on whether or not to discriminate. He said, “you can have your vote — and I’ll quit and go join the Filipino union instead.” That was the end of the debate.

That is such a powerful anecdote — especially during a difficult time for race relations in the America of the 1960s. Tell me, what was the origin of the César Chavez Foundation when César Chavez and others created it under a different name, and what is the Chavez Foundation now?

Marc: Since César and his colleagues knew it would take a movement to redress abuses in the community, during the ‘60s César, Larry Itliong and others also founded what today is the Chavez Foundation, to transform communities.

It has built and renovated—and manages—close to 6,000 units of high quality affordable housing for families and seniors over four states—nearly $1 billion invested in disadvantaged communities. It entertains, educates, and encourages community engagement through our Communications Group—nine radio stations in four states with more than one million listeners. It develops future leaders and helps close the achievement gap through educational programs, products, and services. And it runs the National Chavez Center to preserve and educate people about César’s legacy and values.

Does this mean César stopped working with Filipino farmworkers after the strike was over?

Marc: Not at all. From the beginning, the UFW and César Chavez Foundation worked closely with Filipino farmworkers — the manongs. Are you familiar with the term?

No, what does that mean? 

Marc: Well, most of the Filipino immigrants from that generation came to the U.S. in their teens and twenties in the 1920s and ‘30s. Since California’s racist anti-miscegenation laws banned inter-racial marriage and Filipino women were not imported, most were denied the right to marry, to have families, and most had no choice but to live as bachelors.

By the end of the five-year-long Delano Grape Strike in 1970, many of these men were in their sixties and seventies. Some did return to work under the protections of UFW contracts, but many were too old for farm labor. They had lived in farm labor camps for decades, were evicted during the strike, and had no decent places to live.

This gave rise to the Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village — the first ever retirement home for Filipino farmworkers built by the farm worker movement on our Forty Acres property in Delano in 1973-74. It was built with all volunteer labor, including many Asian American college students, some who volunteered days, weeks, and months of free labor. There’s a plaque on the wall of the recreation area with names of all of the volunteers who built it. Congresswoman Judy Chu from Los Angeles is on that plaque.

Wow, I had no idea. Tell me more about the village. 

Marc: Many of the manongs — many veterans of the Delano Grape Strike — were able to live out the rest of their years in comfort and security. They had a garden where they grew their own vegetables, a recreation room, and an industrial kitchen that served three meals of Filipino cuisine every day. Across the way was the movement’s Rodrigo Toronto Memorial Health Clinic, where they could access health services, and a service center where they could get help with Social Security and other benefits.

The last Filipino brother who lived there died in 1989, but we continue to administer the village, preserve it with historical artifacts and photos, and host visitors there from all over the country and around the world. Many Filipino Americans say they consider this as sacred ground. We have a long-range plan of turning it into a museum of Filipino American history.

This is such an important piece of Filipino American History — and I can’t believe I’m hearing about it for the first time. Let me ask you a final question. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I wonder if you can share a lesson you learned from César Chavez — something that you think the movement can benefit from moving forward. 

Marc: César believed the union had to be more than just an economic institution; it had to champion the causes of other struggling workers and oppressed people. Sometimes, he took unpopular stands. He came out against the Vietnam War when many national labor leaders supported it. He unequivocally embraced LGBTQ rights starting in the ‘70s, long before it was popular. I met Harvey Milk accompanying César as his personal aide to events in San Francisco. His idea of leadership was not following the crowd, but getting out in front of the crowd.

About AAPI Hate

Stop AAPI Hate is a national coalition fighting against racism and racial injustice targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Together, we work with local communities and government stakeholders to document the rise of anti-AAPI hate and dismantle the systems that allow it to persist. To learn more, visit stopaapihate.org.

Credit: This article was originally published by Stop AAPI Hate.