CLS Honors the Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Aurora Martin, Director

This year, Columbia Legal Services looks forward to joining millions of people across the country to celebrate the legacy of Cesar Chavez and recognize Monday, March 31st as both an official holiday and a day of service in our communities.
For CLS, we honor Cesar Chavez not only for his legacy as an American Civil Rights hero, labor icon, and champion of nonviolent social change, but we are inspired by his profound vision of justice for all – one that saw how the injustice of farm worker families was an experience that transcended the valleys and vineyards of Delano, California, to that of a universal experience of inhumane deprivation and a common hunger to belong in the communities in which we live, and in this country we all continue to help build.  For me, it is through this view of “Poverty through a Belongingness Lens” which we may reflect upon over time and always find meaning in all areas of our work for justice.

Cesar’s efforts to reach out across ethnic communities to Larry Itliong, farm worker leader of the hundreds of Filipinos who picked California grapes, in order to unify all farmworkers working in California, began to shine a light on the diverse immigrant working families in the fields, which then gave way to the formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW) that inspired a national boycott of grapes and secured basic rights for agricultural workers.

Even prior to his early days of organizing, Cesar had a larger vision of justice for an inclusive and equitable society.  His labor organizing was fueled by a fundamental belief in “organizing ordinary people to do extraordinary things.”  He knew that the struggle for labor rights among farm workers in California extended and allied with the national civil rights movement, and so he helped forge a cultural bridge in order to bring the power and voice of farm worker labor to the broader movement that demanded equal justice for all.

This year, and perhaps now more than ever, as our community partners have noted, the “spirit of Cesar Chavez is with us.”  His work inspired our early farm worker advocates to provide important labor rights information to farm workers, resulting in the Washington State Supreme Court case of State v. Fox.  And today, it is hard not to feel the presence of Cesar Chavez when we look at remarkable victories and continued advocacy in coordination with and alongside Alliance partners, such as Northwest Justice Project and Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, on behalf of the farm workers who harvest the fruits and vegetables of our state, as our work for justice has reached the northwestern-most corner of Washington, shining a light on the indigenous workers and their families picking berries, and through the central valley of Yakima, where an unprecedented decade long fight was won by CLS yielding a true harvest of justice that brought Dolores Huerta, UFW co-founder, to help elevate our community celebration.

Today, the spirit of Cesar Chavez is starkly with us as is the memory of his last fast when we see what is happening in Tacoma, Washington at the Northwest Detention Center and the courage of the hunger strikers there, which has set-off a series of other actions in detention centers around the country including Alabama and Texas, striking in solidarity, attracting international attention to the plight of human rights of immigrants detained in our country.  Columbia Legal Services stands with those immigrants and their families, and will push for justice together with advocacy partners in our community.

¡Si Se Puede!