En español | Through self-sacrifice, a commitment to nonviolence, and their spirituality, César Chávez and Dolores Huerta changed a nation. Together they founded the farm worker movement, fought against agribusiness, and organized thousands of laborers so they could earn a living wage and have just working conditions. In 1962, they launched the National Farm Workers Association, which preceded the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) union.
To advance la causa, they led selfless lives. Both forfeited time with their large and loving families to defend the human rights of farm workers; they lived in voluntary destitution so as not to drain resources from the movement. They also lived in jeopardy; their lives threatened many times.
With their passion and strength, Chávez and Huerta endured the hardships and passed along their values of service and community to their children.
Today Huerta continues la lucha, as do her children, their families, and Chávez’s children. They continue to believe in the words, spoken by Chávez, which marked the movement: “It is my deepest belief that only by giving life do we find life.”
The Chávez Children
Raspadas and Leaflets
Eleven years after Chávez’s death, his children remember a kind, nurturing man.
Paul, one of eight children Chávez had with wife Helen, is president of the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc. (NFWSC), the nonprofit organization founded by Chávez and Huerta in the 1960s. “We learned from an early age that we needed to share our father with his larger family. Of course, there were times that we wished we had him around,” Paul, 47, explains. “We didn’t grow up with him taking us to Little League baseball games because he was on the road or on different campaigns. But what he did was find ways to involve us in his work and the work of the movement that allowed us to spend time together. He was very creative like that.”
Paul recalls the early days, when his father didn’t have staff and needed to pass out leaflets. “He would take my brothers and sisters and my cousins…and pile us into the station wagon and we would go and leaflet. It was hard work, but at the end of the day he would take us to get raspadas [snow cones] and take us to the park and play softball.”
Sharing the light moments was special. “As we get older, I see the sacrifice that my dad made and I know that it was hard, so it’s hard to sit in judgment of him, knowing that he didn’t do it out of neglect. He did it out of the simple sacrifice.”
After Paul graduated from high school, his father assumed a different role: boss. Paul remembers how Chávez encouraged him to take on different positions throughout the UFW. He first worked in the print shop and then moved on to organizing workers. After that, he served as a negotiator and the union’s political director and lobbyist in Sacramento, California, and Washington, D.C. Without his father’s constant encouragement—which made him believe in himself—he doesn’t think he could have taken on the diverse challenges. Eloise Chávez Carrillo, a payroll supervisor at Delano High School in California, remembers encountering harassment at school and in the community because of her father’s work. “It was very hard. In school, kids were just awful,” she says. “I remember I used to tell my dad, ‘Can’t you be a regular dad, have a regular job? People talk about you.’ ”
Townspeople and schoolchildren would call her father lazy and a communist, and claim he was taking people’s money. “He used to feel bad when we would share those stories with him. He would always tell us, ‘Turn your cheek. We’ll pray for them.’ ”