My Slight Brush With History

César E. Chávez

The man my father told stories about as we sat around the family kitchen table became a legend, a leader of people on a quest for equality for all. I was still new to school, in second or third grade, I had four younger siblings, and life was one of ease and privilege.

My father was a physician/pediatrician who practiced in the town of Fresno, in the central valley of California. In the mid 1960’s, he was one of the few doctors in the area who still made rural calls, sometimes driving fifty or sixty miles away to see patients.

On one of those visits, he met a passionate man who convinced him to come out to a strike encampment (I think it was near Delano, but it may have been closer to Fresno). The non-violent people striking, farm laborers looking for decent wages, had been strafed by crop dusters, and had inhaled a lot of the toxic chemical. My dad worked with his people, providing health care for a period of time, until the fight moved on to a new front. We boycotted table grapes for years afterward, and we lived in the middle of grape growing country.

I still remember listening to the story my father told around the kitchen table about César E. Chávez, a magnetic man with a passion for freedom and life who refused to counter violence with anything except non-violence. He influenced my father, who later dove into a brand new science and became one of the world’s first neonatologists.

Of course, the memories of a small child are nothing compared to the rich history of the man, César E. Chávez. If you don’t know who he is, shame on you. Ask your kids. Today, he is taught alongside the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Today he would have been 87 years old.

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