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Erik Olvera: Honoring Cesar Chavez

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Today honors Cesar Chavez, but to Erik Olvera, his family and friends, every day is a day to honor the farmworker hero.

My grandparents sat silently as they watched Spanish-language news as a man — who was both a farmworker and hero — stood up for them, their children and their friends, who had spent most of their lives zigzagging across the country picking crops for others’ tables.

I remember sitting on their Central California living room floor, watching César Chávez announce the start of another campaign to protect farm laborers — this time to raise visibility about dangerous pesticides toxic to humans.

It was the early 1980s, and my grandparents — who came to the country from Mexico — had worked alongside César in California’s fields decades earlier and respected him for doing what others hadn’t.

Before César, few were courageous enough to stand up for farmworkers, raising visibility about working conditions and better wages for the laborers who are the backbone of the nation’s trillion-dollar agricultural industry.


I was a child at the time, but I remember how the “No Uvas” campaign permeated my grandparents’ home, and when César was on TV, my grandparents would drop what they were doing to watch and then shush us into silence with a quick glare.

To me, César was a legend.

Growing up, my grandparents — as well as almost every farm laborer household that I walked into — had a picture of César, alongside photos of the pope, their children and statues of the Virgin Maria.

Not only did he represent compassion and kindness and perseverance, but his vision for our community extended beyond the fields, and it changed the lives of millions.

He was someone who looked like us, shared similar backgrounds as us and was invited to sit at the nation’s most important tables alongside governors, Members of Congress and even Presidents of the United States.

He gave me hope that I’d have a destiny outside of the only work that my grandparents knew by pulling farm laborers and their families out from the shadows and into mainstream conversations.

Without him, I often wonder if doors would have opened and new paths been created for people like me to be successful out of the fields.

Even though I never met him, César’s influence on my life has always been great, his impact lasting.

That’s what makes a legend.

With a Perspective, I’m Erik Olvera.

Erik Olvera is a communications executive who splits his time between Oakland and Denver.

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