Calling for a National Cesar Chavez Holiday, Everyday

Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)

I remember a colleague of mine cynically observing a few years ago that the MLK celebrations on campuses across America were most honestly described as ceremonies for administrators to get their “annual inoculation” against institutional racism. It was an off-handed, but poignant observation that challenged the layer of superficiality that so often accompanies the most accessible of our efforts to engage in meaningful and transformational activities that loosely hearken back to revolutionary ideas and individuals. When identified like this, it can be a rather stark juxtaposition.

It makes me wonder: If Dr. King himself were here, what would he think of the pomp and circumstance produced in his name?

There is a natural and accessible tension between popular culture and the challenge presented by the persistent need to confront and dismantle the impact of centuries of investment in the doctrine of white supremacy. The legacy of such revolutionaries as Dr. King and Cesar Chavez display this tension front and center and it’s always compelling to see. The national recognition of Dr. King’s impact and legacy is not then, only an “annual inoculation. It is also an excuse to have this important tension, potentially constructively resurrected year after year.

A nationally recognized day honoring Cesar Chavez would add to the ready-made and widely accessible opportunities to explore this tension, and maybe to even more. Cesar Chavez’s legacy could no more be justifiably contained than Dr. King’s could, but the reminder could serve us well. It would be different, however, because it would take on the natural flavor of the broader struggle for equality in the United States.

The struggle was never about just black and white people, it was about RACIAL EQUALITY.

The struggle was never about just about the physical brutality of racial discrimination, it was about the dynamic of OPPRESSION itself.

The struggle was never about grapes, pesticides or even treatment of farm-workers, it was about JUSTICE.

Furthermore – all of these struggles are fundamentally about becoming a world that lives its commitment to HUMAN RIGHTS in everyday actions, as accessible and as prevalent as the food on our plates at mealtime.

I don’t know if a national Cesar Chavez day is a real possibility in the near future, but I do know that, from where I stand, an additional day to honor the notion that the protection of human rights for some of the most vulnerable among us is worth our attention, vigilance and even sacrifice. It would be something that I hope we could dedicate another day to.

From where I stand, and given some of what I can see, I think these kinds of days should grow and grow and grow. Come to think of it, in fact, maybe I would prefer that there NOT be a single day that remains uninfluenced by these ideas and this challenge. Maybe every day should be a day that we honor this legacy and these ideas.

Maybe every day that we eat food we should honor the fundamental equality and humanity of all those who provide us with that food, and that should be Cesar Chavez day.

MORE: Chavez on King


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