By Giving Our Lives, We Find Life: The John Dear Interview with Cesar Chavez

by John Dear

Cesar Chavez poster art courtesy

Editor’s Preface: John Dear conducted this interview in August of 1992, upon the occasion of the annual Pax Christi conference in New York, and just a few months before Chavez’s untimely death. Please see the note at the end for further information about Chavez, links, and acknowledgments. JG

Cesar Chavez lived his life in service of others. A servant of the poor, a servant of justice, a servant of nonviolence, he founded and led the United Farm Workers Union in their struggle for justice. A steadfast practitioner of nonviolence, he fasted, prayed, marched, picketed and boycotted his way to justice.

In April 1993, he traveled to Arizona to stand trial in a lawsuit against a grape-growing company. He also fasted privately for six days. At the end of the fast, on the evening of April 22, 1993, he retired to his room. He died quietly with a book in his hands. He was 66 years old.

Like tens of thousands of others, I journeyed to Delano for his wake and funeral at Forty Acres, the former UFW headquarters in the heart of California’s Central Valley. Fifteen thousand farmworkers viewed his body in an open pine wood coffin, made by his brother. They gathered for the evening vigil and rosary service under a huge tent with a large banner picturing Cesar. The prayers, scripture readings, testimonies and songs continued on through the night until the start of the march the next morning.

The next day, April 29th, over 40,000 people, mostly poor farmworkers, marched through Delano to his funeral, where they pledged to continue the struggle for justice. Dignitaries, church people, and farmworkers alike compared him to Gandhi and King and called him “a prophet of justice and nonviolence.”

Read the pdf of the complete article here: By Giving Our Lives, We Find Life

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cesar Chavez ( 1927-1993) was an American labor leader and nonviolence civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union, UFW). A Mexican-American farm worker, Chavez became the best known Latino-American civil rights activist. His “militant nonviolence”, as he referred to it, made the farm workers’ struggle a moral cause with nationwide support. By the late 1970s, his tactics had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. See also our article on Danilo Dolci and Cesar Chavez posted here.

John Dear is a regular contributor to this site. Please click on his byline for further biographical information and an index of his articles posted here, or go to our Author Archives page here.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi