|Image courtesy of|
Miriam Pawel will be speaking at 4:30 p.m. in the Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room, Main Library, Lower Level.
As a special treat, Miriam Pawel agreed to guest blog for "What's On the 6th Floor?"
The Bay Area has numerous significant ties to Cesar Chavez and was critical to the farm worker movement in many ways, at many times. Volunteers flocked to Delano when the grape strike began in 1965, and the Bay Area became a hub of the grape boycott and a source of much financial support. San Francisco was also the scene of memorable moments both at the height of the movement and in its later, waning years.
Cesar Chavez disliked public speaking and was not particularly eloquent. But on Nov. 9, 1984, he delivered what would become one of his most memorable addresses, to a Commonwealth Club lunch at the Sheraton Palace hotel.
Ronald Reagan had just been re-elected president in a landslide. The United Farm Workers union that Chavez had founded two decades earlier had lost most of its contracts and was in retreat from the fields. His speech amounted to a eulogy for his own union.
Cesar Chavez at the Commonwealth Club
(with Michael G.W. Lee who introduced him; image courtesy of Michael Lee)
He enumerated the severe problems still facing farmworkers. But then he waved that aside, pointing to a greater truth: Farmworkers had shown that poor people, through collective action, could overcome the most daunting odds – and that lesson would live on in cities across the country. “The message was clear,” he said. “If it could happen in the fields, it could happen anywhere … The coming of our union signaled the start of great changes among Hispanics.”
Chavez, next to Teatro Campesino founder Luis Valdez, singing De Colores at a Friday night meeting in 1966 (courtesy of John Kouns farmworkermovement.us)
Chavez was a visionary, often ahead of his times, and few would have uttered the prophetic words he delivered almost three decades ago. Within 30 years, he said, the cities of California would be run by farmworkers, their children, and their grandchildren: “We have looked into the future, and the future is ours.”
Miriam Pawel is the author of The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography and The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement. She has recently been interviewed on "Your Call" on KALW Radio and on the Tavis Smiley Show on PBS.