“There is no substitute for hard work, 23 or 24 hours a day. And there is no substitute for patience and acceptance.”-Cesar Chavez
This year’s Cesar Chavez Legacy Awards gala, held in the Crystal Ballroom of LA’s historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel, was especially meaningful to the Cesar Chavez Foundation. This was partly due to the fact that 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and the 50th anniversary of the historic 1966, 25 day, 340 mile march from Delano to Sacramento, which first put the farm workers’ cause in the national spotlight.
However, of no less importance to the Cesar Chavez Foundation is the fact that this year’s recipients are all actively leading in the battle for Mexican immigrant rights, “Latino empowerment” and positive Latino role models as portrayed in television and cinema. The recipients of this year’s Cesar Chavez Legacy awards were U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, actor/author Mario Lopez and Voto Latino President & CEO Maria Teresa Kumar.
Senator Feinstein has a long, consistent history of fighting for Mexican immigration reform. Throughout her years as a US Senator she has worked tirelessly with the United Farm Workers Union in its efforts to relieve Mexican immigrant farm workers from their abuse in the workplace. In her acceptance speech last Thursday, she vowed to make it a “first priority” to attempt another major push in the U.S. Senate to enact legislation enabling undocumented farm workers to earn permanent legal status by continuing to work in agriculture.
This is the same proposal she helped shepherd into the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013. Farm workers continue to be excluded from the labor rights protections of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, although they do enjoy those rights in California, since we are the only state in the nation to have guaranteed the right to organize and bargain for union contracts through the state Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, won by Cesar Chavez and the UFW.
Actor and author Mario Lopez strives to be a positive role model for young Latinos. He has demonstrated that, as the late civil rights leader noted, hard work and patience can bring success in one’s career and personal life. His diverse career has included work in both television and Broadway. He now serves as anchor for the popular syndicated show EXTRA.
Arguably, at no time in America’s cinematic history has the need for positive Latino male role models been greater than it is today. In his acceptance speech, Lopez pledged to do all in his power to promote empowered, positive, Latino male role models in both television and cinema.
An Emmy-nominated contributor to MSNBC, Maria Teresa Kumar is President and CEO of “Voto Latino” which strives to empower younger American Latinos by engaging them in voter registration. She explained how her organization is playing an important part in this endeavor. As of this writing, Voto Latino has registered more than 250,000 new voters through the use of digital campaigns, pop culture and local community efforts.
This year’s awards were presided over by Paul Chavez, president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation and Cesar Chavez’s son. Said Chavez: “This year’s honorees embody Cesar Chavez’s core values of self-determination and commitment to community, helping to fulfill my father’s legacy by getting more of our people to take part in the civic and political process.”
The keynote speaker for this year’s awards celebration (“50 Years of Justice, Opportunity and Change”) was Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. In addition to presenting a fascinating video which highlighted Cesar Chavez’s legacy, Garcetti revealed a little-known fact about himself: “I have strong roots in the Latin community!” Garcetti’s paternal grandmother, Juanita Iberri, was born in Arizona; one of 19 children born to emigrant parents from Sonora, Mexico. Garcetti explained how important it was to his father that his son not forget that he was partly Mexican, and to respect its culture.
Kris Kristofferson, one of the sponsors for this year’s awards gala, arrived with his wife. They briefly posed for the press on the red carpet, then quickly took their seats inside the Crystal Ballroom. Later, Kristofferson posed for the press with popular actress Jessica Paré. Unknown to either of them, a playful fan stood behind them and “photo bombed” the shot, lol!
In contrast to last year’s awards gala, this year’s was even less formal, despite its more opulent setting. Unlike last year, the VIP attendees were not announced as they stepped onto the red carpet. Once inside the Crystal Ballroom, floor space was minimal with chairs and tables pushed closely together. It was truly “standing room only” as opposed to the spacious accommodations that were present at last year’s gala, held at LA’s Westin Bonaventure Hotel.
This year’s attendees-like in 2015-sported a variety of fashions. It ran the gamut from the simple, all black outfits worn by Kristofferson and UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta to the skimpy, black dress worn by singer/guitarist Charo. My personal favorite was the fun and colorful, sixties “Pop-art” style dress worn by Paré. Looking good, Jessica!
Cesar Chavez and the UFW
For 31 years, Cesar Chavez led the United Farm Workers of America and saw its share of defeats, but also historic victories. Under Cesar, the UFW achieved unprecedented gains for farm workers. Among them were:
♦ The first genuine collective bargaining agreements between farm workers and growers in American history.
♦ The first union contracts requiring rest periods, toilets in the fields, clean drinking water, hand washing facilities, banning discrimination in employment and sexual harassment of women workers, requiring protective clothing against pesticide exposure, prohibiting pesticide straying while workers are in the fields and outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides (years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted).
♦ Establishing the first comprehensive union medical (and later dental and vision) benefits for farm workers and their families through a joint union-employer health and welfare fund, the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Plan, which has paid out more than $250 million in benefits.
♦ The first and only functioning pension plan for retired farm workers, the Juan de la Cruz Pension Plan.
♦ The first union contracts providing for profit sharing and parental leave.
♦ Abolishing the infamous short-handled hoe that crippled generations of farm workers.
♦ Extending to farm workers state coverage under unemployment insurance, disability and workers’ compensation, as well as federal amnesty rights for immigrants.
From Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar adopted historic strategies and tactics that were novel to organized labor. He insisted farm workers strictly adhere to a solemn pledge of nonviolence, and fasted for 25 days in 1968 to rededicate the movement to that principle. Despite skepticism from some labor leaders, Cesar applied boycotts to major labor-management disputes. Millions of people from across North America rallied to La Causa, the farm workers cause, by boycotting grapes and other products, forcing growers to bargain union contracts and agree to California’s pioneering farm labor law in 1975.
2016 Cesar Chavez Awards Sponsors
Kris Kristofferson, Hilda Solis, Citi, Time Warner Cable, ABC7, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, Toyota, General Motors, Chevron, Kaiser Permanente, UnitedHealthcare, AltaMed, Frenkel & Company Insurance Services, Frontier Communications, Greenfield Construction, iHeartMedia, National Equity Fund, Raygoza Landscaping, the law firm of Shackelford, Bower, McKinley & Norton, Trammell Crow and Yardi Systems.
Special thanks to the Cesar Chavez Foundation and Lauren Kurie for making it possible for the Los Angeles Beat to attend this special event.
Thanks to the Cesar Chavez Foundation for providing the author with research materials and quotes. All quotes by Cesar and Paul Chavez that were used in this article are the intellectual property of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, all rights reserved.
All photos, except where indicated, courtesy of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.