[For Cinco de Mayo, a series on a handful of impressive and inspiring Mexican American voices. Leading up to a special Guest Post from an inspiring young scholar and voice!]
On the inspiring lives and legacies of a pair of labor leaders.
First of all, I want to cede this first paragraph to a wonderful recent piece, historian Joel Zapata for the Washington Post’s Made by History blog on contemporary lessons for labor and economic activism we can learn on Cesar Chavez Day. Check it out if you would, then come on back.
Welcome back! Whenever I discuss Chavez, I try also to highlight his colleague Dolores Huerta. That’s not only because she is frustratingly less well-remembered in our collective memories and narratives (although that is the case, and I have to believe gender is a significant part of that disparity), but also and especially because the two of them have a great deal in common (as I briefly discussed in this Saturday Evening Post Considering History column). To quote what I wrote there: “Dolores Huerta, the daughter of a migrant laborer father and a mother who ran a hotel and restaurant for migrant workers, founded the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960 when she was just 30 years old; two years later she joined forces with Cesar Chavez, the son of two migrant laborers and then the Executive Director of the activist Community Service Organization, to co-found the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).” In both family and heritage and their lifelong organizational and leadership roles, Chavez y Huerta were very much a matched pair.
They’re even more than that, though. One of the most frustrating of the many frustrating layers to our contemporary conversations about the Mexican American border is the constant refrain, even from those who support the rights of immigrant arrivals of all types, that what’s happening at the border constitutes a “crisis.” Seeing all those arriving individuals, families, and communities as fellow humans in desperate need of help and solidarity should itself be enough to reframe how we perceive and respond to this unfolding history, of course. But if it’s not, all we need to do is look at the immeasurable contributions of individuals like Chavez and Huerta, two Americans born to migrant arrivals and without whose presence, activisms, and legacies the nation would have been significantly impoverished. Those activisms and legacies themselves have a great deal to teach us about how to engage with communities of immigrants, migrant laborers, and Hispanic Americans (among others)—but it is their lives and identities that perhaps have the most to teach us, if we can only, finally, learn.
Special Guest Post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Mexican American figures, voices, histories and stories you’d highlight?