The grandson of labor icon Cesar Chavez stood in front of an image that's been making the rounds on the Internet showing a family giving thanks to Jesus for their meal, while underneath a farmworker toiling in a field says "de nada."
During an hourlong talk to students from Pittsburg (Calif.) High on Wednesday, Anthony Chavez asked how many of them had seen that image. About one-third of the 200 students raised their hands inside the Little Theatre as laughter rippled through the place.
Chavez said the farmworker shown in the photo could indeed be a Hispanic worker named Jesus, one of many who do backbreaking labor under the hot sun to put a bounty of cheap produce on the table of Americans.
"You see his response -- 'de nada' -- no problem, no sweat off my back, no problem, it's all right. When we look at that we laugh because of the irony," the 27-year-old Chavez told the students.
He added that such laughter is also way to cover up the guilt that people have when they realize that the food on their table is possible only because of the hard lives of farmworkers, even though working conditions have improved as the result of the efforts of his grandfather.
"We have all this produce that's readily available and very cheap. We begin to dismiss the honor and hard work and labor that brings this vast array of produce," he said.
The founder of the United Farm Workers, who was honored with a state holiday to celebrate his March 31 birthday after he died in 1993, quit school in the eighth grade to work in the fields with his parents.
Millions of Americans heeded Cesar Chavez's call to boycott grapes as a strategy to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers and improve their working conditions, which among other hardships included no restrooms or water in the fields and exposure to pesticides. The boycott led to the 1975 passage of a California law that guarantees the rights of farmworkers to unionize and negotiate working conditions with employers.
His grandfather figured "we could use a boycott not just for civil rights, we could use a boycott for workers' rights," Anthony Chavez said. "Civil rights and workers' rights, that's what makes up human rights."
Brenda Garnica said she could have skipped the presentation, since her senior classmates were permitted to come in later to take tests on Wednesday.
"I wanted to learn about Cesar Chavez, how he helped the world, (what) he did for farmworkers," said Garnica while waiting for the talk to begin.
So did Irrael Avila, who is in the 11th grade. "He inspired people," he said.
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