The Legacy of Cesar and Helen Chavez has deep and lasting meaning in Hollister and San Benito County. I hope that after reading my commentary you will better understand Cesar’s connection to our local community.
Cesar Chavez always considered himself as one of the people. He did not judge or measure people by their education or income. He was a humble man committed to the tactics of working on nonviolent solutions. He treated everyone with the same respect and led with humility, something which attracted supporters. All of which brought huge and historic victories in improving working conditions, dignity and respect for farmworkers in Hollister and throughout the nation.
Cesar dedicated his life to inspiring and motivating agricultural workers, at the same time encouraging and educating them to organize as a team in order to support each other and their families. He organized a forum for workers’ voices to be heard, established a leadership team that succeeded with countless efforts assuring working conditions and wages were improved. All of which paved the way to landmark legislation in working conditions for agricultural workers. He brought together people from all walks of life, no matter their ethnic background, as long as they believed in equal justice for the farmworker community.
For more than three decades Cesar led the first successful farm workers union in American history, achieving dignity, respect, fair wages, medical coverage, pension benefits, and humane living and working conditions, as well as countless other rights and protections for hundreds of thousands of farm workers.
With all the work he did across this nation, what was so important about Hollister California that caught his attention when he came here to organize workers? Maybe because at the time, Hollister had one of the largest vineyards in America. Local agricultural workers asked for benefits that were denied and improved working conditions that were ignored. He came to Hollister and found a friend in Jose Luna, who after forming a close partnership with Cesar, left Hollister to continue working with Cesar to organize national farmworker teams for the United Farm Workers of America. When Cesar visited Hollister, he found a second home with the Luna family on Enterprise Road. While in Hollister, Cesar became very familiar with Almaden Vineyards and Paul Masson to the north of us. He also came to know Bertuccio Farms where many farmworkers had requested a forum on the needs of large families living in San Benito County, who worked for Almaden, Paul Masson and Bertuccio Farms. He made many friends locally who never forgot what he achieved for these families and while some people may not have been farmworkers, their admiration for the non-violent style of organizing and negotiating work, which included marches, strikes and boycotts which brought attention to communities that at times preferred not to be in the limelight of actions.
Cesar was calling out for adequate wages and benefits, and local growers felt as usual that they would be able to continue to get away with their current ways of doing business and ignoring the needs of farmworker families, then Cesar called out injustices on employers at a national level which brought actions and attention to local farms and growers. He was only asking for fair treatment and benefits of local farmworkers.
It was Jose Luna who answered Cesar’s call to “organize Almaden”, by getting nearly 100% of its hundreds of workers signed up for the union, resulting in one of the earliest and best contracts for farmworkers in California.
Then Cesar decided to enact the First Bill of Rights for Agricultural workers which passed by legislators, which forced many employers to pay adequate wages and provide the benefits that farmworkers had been requesting but went unheard, specifically addressing the short hoe, water and bathrooms in the fields. You wonder why was this National movement- Moviemiento was also happening in small town Hollister? It could have been the organizing tactics used, including farmworker-grower forums, support from community who were not farmworkers but cared. To the surprise of many, actions for the labor movement began in Hollister. People from all walks of life began following Cesar as he became a teacher, an organizer, an activist, a motivator for all people, a person that could act without violence but with kindness and love.
While staying in Hollister from time to time, he had visitors that served in positions of power and while they visited him at his second home in Hollister, many would wonder why people would come unannounced to visit with this labor leader. Cesar had a drawing of people to him, he spoke softly, he showed people everywhere that through kindness and working out solutions, anyone could succeed in negotiating working conditions, he was one who practiced Ghandi’s messages of non violence but compassion for others.
People who would offer assistance to Cesar would take the time to visit him no matter what city or town he was negotiating for farmworkers. One evening at the Enterprise road home a black limousine drove into Hollister, drove up to the Enterprise road home and unknown to many parked and a young Bobby Kennedy stepped out of the vehicle and visited with Cesar for several hours, discussions unknown but possible actions put in place. Enterprise Road also had meaning to Cesar as he arose early every morning to exercise and meditate while walking a few miles each day on Airline Highway. He would walk on Enterprise to Airline Highway and around the homes back to Enterprise Road, quite a routine that the neighborhood soon became aware of who this man was, and some would come out to greet him and his response was always “have a good day”, “tengan un buen dia”.
While negotiating with Bertuccio Farms, you would often see him out on Airline Highway with the workers supporting them while on strike waiting to hear for the next negotiating meeting to take place. During a protest where he and other workers were asked to disperse as they entered the property, but did not, the SBC Sheriiff was called to arrest and remove everyone for trespassing, and so in August 7, 1981, Cesar Chavez along with his son Paul and 8 other workers were arrested and taken to the SBC jail and held for violation of the trespassing law. The incident was well publicized and crowds began forming on 4th Street, across the jail. A decision was made to immediately move Cesar into the Court of Judge Bernard McCullough the following morning to determine charges on trespassing for which Judge McCullough dismissed all charges and allowed all to be released on their own recognizance. The Courthouse was packed to capacity that morning as more people were descending upon Hollister for support of Cesar and the Farmworkers who were arrested. Sheriff Julian Medina was well aware of the person he held in his jail and personally had deep conversations with him on the importance of treatment of all people no matter the circumstances which was Cesar’s trade on the treatment of others. There are many historical stories about Cesar Chavez and his personal appreciation of our local community.
Recently as we gathered to celebrate the life of a labor leader, a person who created change through non-violence and kindness, you may now understand why Avenida Cesar Chavez in Hollister has deep meaning and deep ties to our community in Hollister and San Benito County. His presence was notable in our community and the nation. We are grateful for putting importance to the remembrance of this humble man who only made our local community come together in better understanding of justice for all people.
The renaming this Avenida will someday soon become the “Avenue” which will lead our younger generation to their local college knowing that education is the key to their future.
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community.”- Cesar Chavez.