Friday, October 8, 2010

Hispanic Heritage Month & Cesar Chavez

At my school, the Hispanic Law Students Association (HLSA) has been doing an amazing job to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. They have been sponsoring a series of events focusing on legal issues affecting Hispanic Americans. I’m awed by the series they have coordinated.

HLSA has also been providing a series of wonderful editorials to our school’s newspaper. I’m excited that HLSA has decided to continue to give voice to issues of concern to them even after Hispanic Heritage Month is over; they have established a new blog. You can access it at:

In keeping with the theme of this blog, I’d like to express my own appreciation for Hispanic Heritage Month by focusing on the life of Cesar Chavez, a man who falls within the proud heritage of progressive Christianity.

Cesar Chavez was born in Arizona in 1927, but moved to California during the Depression with his family. Indeed, he spent most of his life in California. His family were migrant agricultural workers. They were also Catholic Christians.

As he was growing up, Chavez was able to attend school only sporadically because his family moved a lot to do farm work. He had limited formal education, but Chavez was self-taught and an avid reader. He was a gifted orator and organizer.

Those who know of Cesar Chavez think of him as a civil rights leader. He was one of the founders of the forerunner of the United Farm Workers. Interestingly, Chavez initially got involved with labor organizing because of Father Donald McDonnell, a Roman Catholic priest who was active on social justice issues.

Chavez has been called the “Chicano MLK” because he promoted the use of nonviolent means to achieve progress on social justice issues. Indeed, Chavez cited both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King as influences.

The year before he died, Chávez was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award in 1993. It is a prestigious Catholic peace award which has been bestowed annually since 1964. Other recipients include Dr. King, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Bishop Tutu, and Lech Walesa.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was privileged to get to hear Mr. Chavez speak on several occasions. He was a quiet, unassuming speaker, but he nonetheless captivated his audience with a firm morality and dignity. Although in retrospect, I heard him speak in the final years of his life, he spoke each time with great passion and focus about current issues facing farm workers. He was committed to the cause of doing justice throughout his life.

Deuteronomy 16:20 (New International Version)

Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.

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