Cesar Chávez and the Women Who Raised Him Up


On this day in history, one of the greatest icons of the Latino community was born. Cesar Chávez, pioneer of grassroots organizing, worked for farm workers and for Latino American civil rights. In the early 1960s, Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association, today known as the United Farm Workers union (UFW).

This weekend, Hollywood released the film, "Cesar Chávez: An American Hero," which allows his legacy to live on.

Cesar Chavez. Photo on Wikimedia Commons

However, many people, including Rosario Dawson, who plays Dolores Huerta in the film, are put off by the lack of acknowledgement of the roles that women played in the movement.

Huerta was actually the co-founder of the NFWA and its chief negotiator. While the movie recognizes this, Dawson is frontlining an effort to give Huerta her own movie, instead of just being a secondary part in Chávez's biopic.

"I hope with the success of this film that there's an opportunity to tell her story, 'cause she's still writing it, she's still out there on the front lines doing the stuff," Dawson said in a recent Fox News interview.

Along with Huerta, Chávez’s wife, Helen Chávez (played by America Ferrera in the movie), was one of the pillars of the movement. Not only did she encourage Chávez to join the grassroots movement when they met, but she was key in handling administrative duties for the union. Outside of the union, she helped register voters, assisted migrants in obtaining their citizenships, and cared for the couple's eight children. Her father was part of the Mexican Revolution and activism was second nature for her.

Cesar and Helen Chavez. Photo by Adam S on Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Though both women were prominent figures mostly behind the scenes, people did know their faces.

In 1966, Helen Chávez was arrested at a union protest for shouting "Huelga!" ("Strike!") at the W. B. Camp ranch.

In 1988, Dolores Huerta was severely beaten by San Francisco police officers during a peaceful and lawful protest of the policies/platform of George H.W. Bush. The baton-beating was severe, and also caught on videotape, so Huerta went on to win a suit against the SFPD and the City of San Francisco. She used the proceeds to benefit farm workers.

In so many ways, women were the pillars of Chávez’s movement. Today, while we recognize the late and great Cesar Chávez, let’s not forget the ladies who made it all happen and continue to make it happen today.

Dolores Huerta. Photo by US Department of Labor on Flickr/Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)