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  • Edición impresa de Julio 2, 2019.

THE SOCIAL MOVEMENT

PHOTOGRAPHY OF DAVID BACON
THE YEAR CESAR DIED: 

Cesar’s Funeral March - April, 1993

I drove down to Delano the night before Cesar’s funeral with my wife Lillian and my daughter Miki, who must have been four.  Lillian was one of the Filipina students who worked on building the

Agbayani Village retirement housing, for her father’s generation of Filipino farm workers, the manongs.  

I didn’t want to take photographs of the funeral service at the Forty Acres .  It was too formal, and there were plenty of photographers there to do that anyway.  Instead, I began taking pictures of the people as they gathered.  Then the march started.  Following the young people carrying Cesar›s plain pine coffin, we all walked through

Delano and up the Garces Highway to the union›s old headquarters on the Forty Acres a mile outside of town.

There were notable people, like Jesse Jackson, at the head of the march.  But most important folks were already waiting in the huge tent where the service would be held.  The hundreds of people marching in the dust along the highway were almost all farm workers and their families.  
In some ways the photos were a tribute to those years I spent as an organizer for the United Farm Workers in the 1970s.  I took them with the same spirit of concentration on the workers that I remembered from those times when Cesar went with me to the fields, to visit crews I was organizing.  He always made a point of showing workers (and the organizers) that workers had the first claim on his attention.  Even if I had some urgent question I had to discuss, he’d cut me off and turn to a woman in the grape vines trying to get a moment to speak with him.
Alfredo, who’d known Cesar’s family long before the union started, came as much to recognize his own history as he did to honor Cesar’s. 

For most of the people on the march, recognizing Cesar’s passing was a way to pay tribute to him as a person, but also to the movement they built together.  I heard many people say, “Cesar is gone, but we are still here.  The union is still here.”

When I took the photograph of Lillian and Miki in front of the memorial set up by Delano’s Filipino community, it had that message.  Many Filipinos were antagonized by Cesar’s trip to the Philippines while Ferdinand Marcos was still dictator, and felt sidelined in the union itself.  Yet recognizing Cesar at his funeral was also a way of recognizing themselves, and the contributions they’d made, going far back to years long before the great grape strike of 1965-70.

The United Farm Workers was and is the product of a social movement, and Cesar would have been the first to say so.  He was not the single author of the boycotts or the strategic ideas the union used in fighting for its survival.  No one person could have been, because they evolved as the responses of thousands of people to the age-old problems faced by farm worker unions for a century - of strikebreaking, geographic isolation, poverty and grower violence.  That movement produced other leaders - women like Dolores Huerta and Jessica Govea, Filipino labor leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, African American Mack Lyons and many white organizers from the civil rights and student movements of the day.

When workers walked out at Sakuma Farms in Washington in 2013, forming their new union Familias Unidas por la Justicia, and then spent four years striking and boycotting to get a contract, they were using lessons farm workers learned in Delano in 1965.  

A union that doesn’t lead and organize the anger that produces those job actions becomes irrelevant to workers.  Organizing depends on taking that anger and need and transforming it into a powerful economic weapon.  And any union depends on organizing to survive.  If there’s inspiration to be drawn from Cesar’s example, it is that this can be done.  The social movement sparked half a century ago is still capable of transforming life for farm workers, and in the process, much of the rest of our world as well.

That was the possibility that I saw on the faces, and heard in the voices, of the people marching at Cesar’s funeral.  It is what I still see in those photographs I took then, and in the ones I take today.

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Farm workers and their families, joined by Jesse Jackson, wait for the march to start.

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Children and mothers walking up the Garces Highway.

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Cesar Chavez in San Francisco and Delano, 1989 and 1991

 

 

 

 


 

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