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Essay on Cesar Chavez

This sample essay from Ultius custom writing services explores the unionist leader and how he instituted immense political, social, and economic reform in his native country. Cesar Chavez is, without a doubt, one of the most significant characters in Latin American history. You would find writing like this in any number of essay writing assignments or personal blogs.

Historical background on Cesar Chavez

There are many examples of men and women in history who have stood apart from their peers and effected change on the world in new and exciting ways. They span the globe and reach across history, often with very little in common. One characteristic, however, runs through each of them in some degree, one necessary ingredient in their particular cocktail for inciting change.

That one component is madness. Perhaps nothing clinical, nothing they would necessarily need to be locked up for, but most definitely a derangement of some kind, an inability to tolerate what average people do and an irresistible urge to lash out against it in whatever way they can imagine.

Speaking out to those who don’t understand

This too evidences the vague madness that runs through these famous people of the modern era because they so often choose paths that make no sense until the results come to light. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Kalle Lasn, and Micah White are people that broke away from the norm and brought new ideas to the world in ways that could not be ignored. Cesar Chavez is most certainly a member of that group.

His work instituting and empowering the United Farm Workers Union changed the lives of literally millions. An examination of his story from a few of the many perspectives that it has been written from will reveal that he was most assuredly a madman in many respects and that without being so he never would have been hailed as a revolutionary or a genius.

Many accounts have been written of Cesar Chavez as a man and many others about him as a unionist and a revolutionary. Because this is not a question of whether Chavez needed medication or an institution but rather a way of looking at his methods, it is the latter that will be most relevant. Regardless of what personal fortes or foibles he may have had, history has proven that he was a powerful and effective force on the world of labor for Latinos.

His early childhood

Chavez was born into a world desperately in need of his kind of madness. Minorities of all kinds were persecuted in the early and mid-20th century, but Latino persecution has been often overlooked in favor of that of black Americans. Ideally, the plight of neither would devalue either, but history is not always fair. Gonzalez (2001) carefully described the conditions for Latinos in the United States after World War II, and they were not good.

Even before Chavez became a hero, racism and racial stereotypes were already experiencing an evolution; there were stirrings of outrage at the racial prejudice, exemplified in familiar examples of bigotry like not allowing Latinos into restaurants, an issue that reached a boiling point when Sergeant Jose Mendoza Lopez, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, was refused at a restaurant in his hometown (Gonzalez, 2001).

Changes in social ideology during Chavez’s childhood

Such a situation could not endure with so many communities rising up in protest, but much like the beginnings of civil rights for black Americans, the early incarnation of Latino civil rights was disorganized and without strategy.

That is not to say that Chavez came onto the scene with a grand plan. He had outside help and inspiration. But his passion and tenacity were unmatched. Even if the face of impossibility, even when faced with doing something that had never been done before, Chavez carried on. One such example is found in Ross’ (1989) account of meeting and working with the revolutionary.

Over forty nights, nearly the last man standing as the others helping him fell away, Chavez managed to register four thousand voters in his barrio, a place that had never heard of such a thing (p. 4). It was that action and many that followed that put him on the path to leading unions.

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Chavez’s leadership of Mexican labor unions

The leadership of those unions is where still more evidence is seen that Chavez was not at all normal in his thinking. While working with Fred Ross at the Community Service Organization, Chavez was paid a salary that he accepted, but once a union came along, the United Packinghouse Workers, and wanted his leadership, he became uncomfortable with the money despite accepting the responsibility.

Most would gladly accept a salary for their work, it is expected and history has proven that union leaders are paid well, but Chavez could not rest easy taking money from the workers that he fought to empower (Ross, 1989, pp. 5-6). A normal person would not be distressed by a good paycheck for good work, but Chavez needed purity in his work and being paid out of the pocket of workers was unacceptable.

Struggle to move forward

Whether it was this disease or a deep need to return to the roots of his people’s struggle in California, Chavez’s return to working with farm unions was the beginning of real change. Nonviolent protest has been acknowledged as a wise and effective tactic, thanks to hindsight, but in the Civil Rights era, it was a new and bizarre beast. Nonetheless, and despite his personal intensity, Chavez advocated it unilaterally in all the unions he advised during the early strikes of the late ‘60s (Tejada-Flores, 2004).

The people Chavez led were starving and outraged, pushed to the edge, much like the black Americans of the deep South were Dr. Martin Luther King led his protests, but just like in the South, Chavez demanded peaceful protest despite it being largely unproven. Yet more evidence of bold madness, that he would take the confidence of thousands that he had spent years gathering and gamble it all on an untried tactic.

And even after he had achieved success, Chavez carried on his philosophies. He lived in voluntary poverty for the remainder of his life, unwilling to accept the opulent lifestyles that other union leaders, hypocrites in his eyes, enjoyed (Rodriguez, 2011-2012). His dedication to his principles was clear by how dramatically he adhered to them, even when it did not make sense to do so.

Critics view of Chavez’s instability

There is also more traditional evidence of Chavez’s instability that is somewhat less heroic. Pawel (2009) described the decay of Chavez over time, his paranoia, delusions of grandeur, and pettiness. Whatever the reasons for this descent, whatever justifications might be presented, it should at least be acknowledged that the stress of a lifetime of poverty, struggle, and the constant threat of betrayal would wear on any person, let alone someone with the passion and energy of Chavez.

The criticisms of the revolutionary are lauded and expanded upon by Yates (2010) who was happy to see Chavez taken down a peg and have some dirty laundry aired. Neither of these accounts can effectively disprove that Chavez was a powerful force for change, however, proving that his madness, downsides included, was a necessary catalyst for bringing about the peaceful revolution of farm workers’ rights.

Conclusion

In considering heroes of history, it is important to remember that they are human. Cesar Chavez was party to and, in some cases, the sole force behind many great things. He was also an unstable man, in many regards. It would be an oversimplification to judge him or most any other human as being solely good or bad, though some exceptions do exist. In this case, Chavez was a man with a powerful drive to do good who did it the best way he knew how. It was not always right, it often did not make sense, but he brought immense change to the world because of his proactive madness.

References

Day, M. (1971). Forty Acres: Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers. New York, NY: Praeger Publications.

Gonzalez, J. (2001). Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Rodriguez, A. S. (2011-2012). Why Cesar Chavez led a movement as well as a union. Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy, 23, 15-21.

Ross, F. (1989). Conquering Goliath: Cesar Chavez at the Beginning. Keene, CA: United Farm Workers.

Tejada-Flores, R. (2004). Cesar Chavez & the UFW. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from PBS: http://www.pbs.org/itvs/fightfields/cesarchavez1.html

Yates, M. D. (2010, May). The rise and fall of the United Farm Workers. Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine, 62(1), 51-59.

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