I love seeing the UFW Flag. The black Aztec eagle symbolizing la causa is so familiar. Every time I see it I not only think of Cesar Chavez, but also of my mother. I was in grammar school the first time I heard of boycotts, farmworker rights, and la causa. My mom was in night school at Ventura College (California) and went to community meetings at the local CSO building.
One weekend she packed her bags and took off to Delano with several of her younger classmates and community organizers to participate in a march. When she came back she talked with a fervor about Cesar Chavez and farmworker rights.
“Did you know he lived in Oxnard? Right here in La Colonia.”
His speeches moved her, she could relate, she embraced his words of “Si se puede.”
Mom was a migrant worker from the time she was a toddler playing under the sombra of the vineyards until she was fifteen and cutting her hands on the thorny brambles of the cotton bushes, moving from place to place first with her parents, then with her tios when her parents both died. She hated that her education was interrupted and for that she never wanted to work in the fields again.
Her participation in la causa and community meetings was fodder for several arguments with my uncles. “What the hell are you doing, going to these meetings, isn’t it bad enough you go to night school, you’re never with your kids…”
That rang true, but she wasn’t gone because she was in a bar or with some man, we kids knew that. No one talked stuff about our mom like they did about one of the moms down the street. But sometimes she crumpled under their barrage of words, other times she let loose on them. Whatever happened though, my uncles and their wives were there for us, lending Mom money, bringing us food, and taking care of us.
Years later, when I was in high school we had renewed arguments, this time both my mom and I harangued our relatives. “We’re boycotting Coors, switch beers,” we’d say whenever they visited. “We thought it was just grapes,” they’d yell and add, ‘que la chingada,’ for emphasis. It took a year of confronting them every time they popped open a Coors, but they stopped buying the brand.
In college I remember boycotting Safeway, standing in picket lines in Santa Barbara, and waving that red flag. By this time my cousin was involved in the Brown Berets and my mom was busy marching for a community pool in La Colonia, addressing workplace issues, and working on her BA at a university.
My uncles noted the photos of the Kennedy’s, Cesar Chavez, and the Pope on the walls of our home. ” Is this why you go to college?”
When Cesar Chavez died Mom went to Delano and paid her respects with 50,000 other people and mourned the loss of the great man who inspired her and gave her the three words she often repeats whenever she or we gets discouraged.
“Si se puedes,” she says, yes you can. And when I see that iconic flag, I hear those words, remember those sacrifices, and think of Cesar Chavez and my mom.