News Column

Google's Cesar Chavez 'Doodle' Causes a Stir on Easter Sunday

April 1, 2013

Dana Hull, San Jose Mercury News

google, Cesar Chavez, doodle, easter, controversy

Conservative commentators lashed out at Google (GOOG) over the company's decision to feature labor and civil rights legend Cesar Chavez, instead of an Easter-related theme, as its "Google Doodle" Sunday.

Chavez was born March 31, 1927, and would have been 86 years old Sunday. A devout Catholic, he dedicated his life to improving wages and working conditions for farm workers and was among the founders of the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers of America.

Talk show host Glenn Beck and Fox News Contributor Dana Perino were among those leading the criticism on Twitter Sunday.

"I thought the Chavez-google thing was a hoax or an early April Fool's Day prank ... are they just going to leave that up there all day?" wrote Perino, a former press secretary for President George W. Bush, on Twitter.

Others in the Twitterverse threatened to switch their search engine of choice from Google to Microsoft's Bing.

Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican strategist, tweeted, "Google is celebrating Easter with Cesar Chavez. I'm celebrating Easter with Bing."

The controversy comes as immigration reform remains a top public policy issue and the Republican National Committee attempts to improve its

outreach to Latino voters.

Some liberal commentators remarked that the Chavez/Google "outrage" is likely to backfire.

"How's that Latino outreach working out for ya?" Christine Pelosi, daughter of San Francisco congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, tweeted in a response to Perino.

Whimsical honor

"Doodles" are the whimsical changes made to the Google logo that celebrate holidays, anniversaries and the lives of famous artists, scientists and pioneers, from Dr. Seuss to Maria Montessori. One of the first doodles, in 2000, celebrated Bastille Day; creating doodles is now the responsibility of a team of illustrators and engineers.

"We enjoy celebrating holidays at Google but, as you may imagine, it's difficult for us to choose which events to highlight on our site," said the Google press team in an e-mail Sunday. "Sometimes for a given date we feature an historical event or influential figure that we haven't in the past."

Marc Grossman of the Cesar Chavez Foundation said that Google contacted the Chavez foundation two months ago and said they were working on a doodle to mark Chavez's March 31 birthday. Google asked for assistance looking for historical photos and artwork, but Grossman says the actual doodle is an original illustration.

Google last noted Easter in 2000, with a doodle featuring Easter eggs.

One thing is clear: Many Americans are not familiar with Cesar Chavez, and Twitter was filled with tweets confusing the labor leader with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died March 5.

"Cesar Chavez American civil rights activist, not Venezuelan dictator. Before bitching about Google's doodle, USE google & look it up," tweeted Liz Hayes.

Lived the gospel

"We're pleased that Google is introducing Cesar Chavez's life and legacy to a whole new generation," said Grossman, who also acts as a spokesman for the Chavez family. "Coincidentally, his birthday this year falls on Easter Sunday. We understand the concern that some people have, but for many there is no contradiction. Cesar lived the gospel according to Jesus Christ: he helped the poor and outcast."

Chavez lived in San Jose in the 1950s and was introduced to social activism and the principles of nonviolence by Father Donald McDonnell, who had a ministry at what is now Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in San Jose.

Chavez's widow, Helen, lives in Keene, a small town in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County. Grossman said that Helen and other members of the Chavez family attended Easter Mass this morning.

Chavez's birthday is an official holiday in 10 states; California public schools and government offices are closed Monday. In 2011, President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation declaring March 31 Cesar Chavez Day.

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.

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