"Stay close to me." My dad said as we weaved through the crowd. Left and right and everywhere we looked there were people waving flags with the emblem of an eagle. Some others shouted about lettuce, grapes, and other names that are foggy in my memory. Some others even carried cardboard spray-painted with messages that read the future is ours. There were times in which we would stop to listen to a speaker get on stage and rally the crowd. Some other times were long walks under the sizzling sun of Arizona.
I was ten at the moment and didn't know what was going on exactly. All I knew was that my dad believed in this movement and he was an active member. He used to tell me, "Amelia, listen, I know that all you see around you is hectic and maybe a little exhausting at times, but I want you to remember these words. 'You're never strong enough that you don't need help.'" and he would pat me in the head and then brush my chin with that big, generous, hard-working, callous hand of his. And that smile. A smile that up to this day makes me feel like there's a better future for us.
Were we captive? Were we imprisoned? Were we in some sort of camp? I didn't know. All I knew was that the workers of the fields were eager and determined to get their voices heard, and I was part of them by association. How lucky was I to be part of them.
There was a name my dad mentioned often and at the moment I didn't know who the man was. It took me a while, several years really, to find out that that man was no other than Cesar Chavez himself. The man who started a movement that made it to history books. A man who dared the odds and brought an issue nobody wanted to talk about to the table. He was a central figure in our movement and he did have the words to be so. There was something he used to say often, it went something like this:
"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart."
More or less, sorry, I can't remember. I all know is that it seems like a thousand lifetimes ago.
My dad hosted parties in which he would invite his own bosses to come and sit at the table with us. There was something strange that happened every time I witnessed this. Those who looked differently than I did, left with a vague sensation of change. Perhaps they realized that there wasn't any difference between them and us. Only the one imagined and reinforced by generations of toxic ideals.
Yes, I was still too young to know why the man seemed to respect my dad a lot more after dinner was over. I was still too young to see the real meaning of it all. What it meant to invite someone to eat at your table, and give them your heart. But it wasn't long for me to understand the yeast of it.
When I was fourteen I grabbed a hold of what my dad and Cesar Chavez were protesting for. They simply wanted to be treated humanly. They simply wanted their people to make it back home to their families, to be paid a day worth of work, and to be seeing with respect and not contempt. They wanted to show us our worth and be given the right pay for our efforts. They wanted to show us that there was a better future waiting for us to act upon it. To believe in it. To go out and get it. They wanted to takes us to a better place. And we did. But it's not over.
It's true that we have come a long way, and many of our kids have adapted to the culture; many more have gone to college, gotten married, and formed their own families in a stable environment. But it doesn't end when I'm benefited. It ends when it ends. It pains me to admit it... I'm yet to see justice for my people working in the fields.
I still see many of my own people working on the fields, in the midst of a pandemic, without the proper protection or recognition nor benefits they deserve. I wish I could go back to my youth and do the same thing my dad did, go out there and lead my kind to newer better heights. It's been so many years since I've been in a protest. Now that I'm in my eighties and on the verge of death, the only thing I can do is write and hope for someone to be inspired by my words and the words of those who preceded us. Someone who sees meaning in phrases like,
“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
Someone who would not back down in the face of resistance. And why do I say, someone? Because it takes a leader to point to people where to go. It takes a leader to show us where the horizons are more vibrant and beautiful than the one we live in. It takes a leader who conquers the hearts of his people, before he can conquer any government system, to show us who we are. A leader who is willing to die with his brothers on the streets. If you're out there and you're reading this, I hope you find some strength in these words. I hope that you stand for yourself and those around you. I hope you lead them beyond the horizon.
The world needs you. I, sadly, am no more.