My husband, Cesar Chavez, and I made the decision to move back to Delano to begin organizing the United Farm Workers in 1962. Dolores Huerta and other leaders soon joined us. Then thousands more came to work with our movement. And millions of good people across North America supported us by boycotting grapes and other products.
All these years, I chose to stay in the background. I walked picket lines, managed our credit union, and took care of our eight children. Cesar respected my privacy. I never spoke in public or did an interview with a reporter. But I’m speaking out now.
Back in 1962, farm workers were treated as though we were agricultural tools. One grower called us “rented slaves.” Working in the fields, I remember we were called “wetbacks,” “dirty Mexicans”—and worse. It was common then in parts of our country for African Americans to also be degraded by those who called them the “n” word or used stereotypes because of their skin color or who they were.
Our movement gave, and still gives, hope and pride to farm workers and millions of other people who never worked on a farm.
Today, farm workers and many other immigrants still do important work other American workers won’t do, for low pay, and miserable conditions.
We harvest the greatest bounty of food in the world. We spend our lives laboring in service jobs where we make beds, clean rooms, cook meals, and care for the young and the elderly. We work in construction and manufacturing. We serve our country in the military.
But instead of thanking all these workers for their important work, they are often called names—like illegal immigrant.
That’s not right. It is no longer acceptable to call people names or use stereotypes because of skin color or who people are. Why should we tolerate farm workers and other Latinos being treated this way? Some day not long from now people will look back and ask, “How could people call other people names like illegal?”
Si Se Puede!
Helen F. Chavez, widow of Cesar Chavez