meeting cesar

i first came in contact with cesar & the ufw in 1968 when he came to east LA college to speak about the union and the grape boycott. as i waited for the keynote speaker (cesar) i could see this small, brown-skinned man with his hair slightly disheveled. i thought this must be cesar’s assistant, whick would explain so many aproaching him for and to give information. the man was so soft-spoken you could barely hear him a few feet away. the introduction finished, cesar would now speak, i looked behind us to see him approach, nothing. facing the front i saw the man, the charismatic man, approaching the microphone. so many thoughts ran through my still unpoliticized mind. he began to speak. the voice, it turned off everything else and held me mesmerized. he spoke of farmworker hardships, abuses, chemical exposures while working in the fields with very little financial recompense. he talked about children working in fields doing what only adults should do. his words entered my mind and raced to my heart. “what can i do?” “i have to do something!” i felt tears stinging my eyes and i’ve never been a good crier. he spoke of marches, hunger strikes, informing the public and boycotting grapes. i knew this would be difficult to do as my family was nuts for grapes, especially the green ones. i guess he was touched by my tears, he approached me after his speech. he shook my hand, i apologized for the tears. he told me the tears would sprout someone of great ccommittment and great action. he told me to follow my heart.i went home and informed my papi & mami we would no longer buy california table grapes in support of the farmworkers. my mom balked, but she was a life-long teamster. “mami, it’s the united farmworkers’ union, founded by cesar chavez.” “oh, they’re a union” she responded. i told her that if union people didn’t support them who would? i was all of 18, still an innocent and i informed them i would stand in front of the local safeway asking people not to buy table grapes. neither was too happy as the store was in a really bad barrio. i didn’t care. so off i went each day at 4:45 to take my place with sign & homemade flyers in hand. two weeks passed. then my mami & papi showed up with two more signs and more flyers they had printed up somewhere. i was so embarrassed demanding to know what they were doing. since i was going to do this, they were too. mami had already talked to her union to ask they not buy table grapes to support the UFW and my dad no longer bought them. we had good responses and bad of course. when people would ignore me and walk passed my mami would get in their path and say “are you hard of hearing & blind? she’s talking to you, don’t be rude” with my papi standing behind her scowling. we did this for 5 or 6 months. i learned so much about myself, my parents and people. mostly i learned about cesar, a lesson i’ve never forgotton. RIP leader.


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