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Our Opinion: Remembering Chavez

March 30, 2001

Bring up the name Cesar Chavez in the Imperial Valley and you will hear opinions about him touching both ends of the spectrum and not many opinions falling in between.

Talk to a group of local farmers and they will tell you Chavez was a bad guy guilty of malevolent practices and ruthless in getting what he wanted. They will tell you he was a glory hog who courted the media and was nowhere near a humble man of peace, as he liked to be portrayed. They will tell you he did not do as much for farm workers as he claimed, that farmers were moving toward much of what was accomplished on their own.

Talk to a group of farm worker families locally and they will tell you Chavez used intelligence and persistence to bring a better life to millions of people, specifically farm workers and their children. They will point to their children and grandchildren who are college graduates and say they are Chavez's legacy. They will say Chavez was a true hero, one who likely died an early death because of the wear and tear his persistence took on his body.

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The truth about Chavez probably lies somewhere in between, and only those close to Chavez knew the real man and his motivations.

This can't be denied, though. Chavez made life better for countless farm workers. Many of those people live in our Valley, as do their progeny. They undoubtedly are better off because of Chavez. It was under Chavez's lead that pay for farm workers reached a living wage. It was under Chavez's lead that farm workers were better protected from pesticide exposure and other hazards of farm work. It was under Chavez's lead that farm workers were afforded the most basic amenities, such as toilets at their work sites. We could go on and on and on about all he helped do for farm workers.

Like him or not, Chavez, who grew up largely in Brawley and may be our most famous native son, got a lot done. He was a man of great significance, and even his detractors would say he was nothing if not steadfast in pursuing an agenda for his constituency.

So we urge the people of this valley, both those who benefited directly from Chavez's work and those didn't, to go to one of the celebrations in the Valley on Saturday as we in California celebrate Cesar Chavez's birthday, a state holiday signed into existence by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994.

Chavez changed many things in many places forever, nowhere more so than our Imperial Valley, and for that he should not be forgotten, on Saturday or any other day.

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