News Column

Cesar Chavez Monument Is Just the First Step

Oct. 19, 2012
Cesar Chavez home and monument.
Cesar Chavez home and monument.

President Obama was right to dedicate a national monument in honor of Cesar Chavez on Oct. 8.

The great Chicano organizer of farmworkers richly deserved the honor, and it was a long time in coming. It's a shame that it took a couple of hundred years for a Latino leader to be so recognized.

Critics have pointed out that Obama's timing with this dedication is politically motivated. A majority of Latino voters favor Obama, and this is just the latest of his actions that may motivate the Latino segment of the population to pull the lever for him.

But we cannot allow our political cynicism to make us overlook the importance of this monument, and Chavez himself.

Chavez was a complicated figure.

On the one hand, he was devoted to social justice, equality and civil rights. He made remarkable progress in championing the rights of farmworkers and unionists.

On the other hand, he fought the Bracero Program, an arrangement between the United States and Mexico that allowed for a legal alternative to the use of undocumented immigrants for farm work and labor. In addition, Chavez was involved in reporting strikebreakers to the immigration service. And the National Farm Workers Association, under his leadership, was responsible for taking action to physically detain undocumented immigrants from crossing the border to look for work.

It is this complicated legacy that mirrors Obama's own record on immigration.

The Obama administration has deported undocumented immigrants at a rate greater than any president before him. In less than four years, his administration has deported nearly as many people as President George W. Bush did across two terms. Then there is Obama's boast that he has "put more boots on the border than ever before."

On the flip side, the administration this year has decided not to break up families with deportation and to allow young people who came here when they were little to stay in the country legally for a few years if they go to college or enter the military.

Maybe it was Obama's own complicated record that drew him to honor Chavez. Maybe it was just politics. Or maybe the president understood, as he put it when he announced the monument, that it's a "day that has been a long time coming."

For decades, Latino leaders have remained in the margins of history books. That can't happen any longer. May this monument be the first of many.



Jose Miguel Leyva, of El Paso, Texas, is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main St., Madison, WI 53703; email:; Web site: For information on PMP's funding, please visit

This article was prepared for The Progressive Media Project and is available to MCT subscribers. McClatchy-Tribune did not subsidize the writing of this column; the opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy-Tribune or its editors.

Source: (C) 2012 Mclatchy-Tribune News Service.. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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