Not only Latino politicians but social media as well clapped back at the idea of turning famous American labor leader César Chávez into a symbol of anti-immigration policies. The proposal to change March 31 (now César Chávez Day, his birthday) to “National Border Control Day” was submitted by East Texas Representative Louis Gohmert on March 20. The statement admits, “Chavez was best known for his passionate fight to gain better working environments for thousands of workers laboring in harsh conditions on farms for low wages.”
But the resolution filed by Gohmert continues:
“In fact, it was his firm belief that preventing illegal immigration was an essential prerequisite to improving the circumstances of American farmworkers; and in 1979, in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., he demanded that the federal government enforce the immigration laws and keep illegal aliens out of the country.”
The Hispanic Caucus released a statement and tweeted a reply, “César Chávez risked his life to overcome the very racism & bigotry that Rep. Gohmert espouses. For him to twist & warp the legacy of #CésarChávez is offensive, shameful & beyond the pale of normal logic.”
New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez called Gohmert a bigot.
Many Twitter users weighed in with their own thoughts on Chavez’s legacy and Gohmert’s plan. The tone of most of the replies was incredulousness — some thought it was a joke — and outrage. A debate was sparked about whether it constituted hate speech and should be reported as such.
There was one supporter of Gohmert among the dozens of rebuttals and detractors. Gohmert and his fans appear to want to create a revisionist account of Chávez’s legacy.
Chávez’s signature triumph was the empowerment of fieldworkers over the powerful grape growers through a succession of non-violent strikes, boycotts and marches in the 1960s and ’70s.
César Chávez’s legacy grows year after year as more streets and schools and monuments are dedicated to the labor activist and leader, who cofounded in 1962 what would become United Farm Workers (UFW) union. President Obama repeatedly held him up as an inspiration, and in 2012 established March 31 as a holiday and Chávez’s one-time home as a national monument.
In March 2014, a highly publicized feature film by Mexican auteur and actor Diego Luna titled César Chávez (played by Michael Peña) was released.
The major motion picture is an uncomplicated version of a focused, if stubborn, hero. With the book The Crusades of Chavez, Miriam Pawtel penned a more complicated biography of Chavez, who died in 1993 and would be 91 this coming March 31.