The last week of March is a time of remembrance for Latinos. We celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday, and we honor the memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona. His parents and siblings worked the fields in California, as he did. He served in the U.S. Navy for two years and then returned to the fields.
In the 1950s, he became an organizer (a much-maligned profession) with the Community Service Organization, and in 1962, he co-founded, with Dolores Huerta, the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers.
With his commitment to nonviolence and his hunger strikes, Chavez drew national attention to the plight of farmworkers and was instrumental in bringing them a modicum of justice.
Romero was born on August 15, 1917, in El Salvador. He entered the priesthood as a young man. A traditionalist for most of his life, Romero became much more liberal when he was appointed archbishop of San Salvador in 1977.
He denounced the widespread poverty in his country. And he condemned the military’s common practice of torture and assassination of peasant organizers, unionists and human rights activists.
Romero himself was assassinated by a right-wing death squad on March 24, 1980, while celebrating mass. A huge crowd of about 250,000 attended his funeral.
Today, the Vatican is considering making him a saint.
These two iconic heroes had something in common: an unbreakable belief in Catholic spirituality and a true commitment to social justice.
Even as we celebrate both of them this week, we should remember they were quite controversial in their day.
Chavez was seen by some as a rabble-rouser.
Romero dared to take on the power structure in his country.
They both chose not to follow certain established rules. They both denounced inhumane laws and practices.
They were willing to fight for the invisible people. And they both had an extraordinary connection and commitment to farmworkers.
In fact, it was the campesinos (the farmworkers) who revolutionized Romero. He met with them often and saw their pain and suffering. He decided to take on their fight for respect and equality. He chose to give his life for the Salvadoran people.
Chavez and Romero made the powerful uncomfortable. And they sacrificed their health in doing so. But they did not sell out. No one was able to buy Chavez or Romero, and they shunned material possessions and wealth.
They were not perfect. For instance, Chavez was not fully supportive of undocumented immigrants. He was not enamored of Central American undocumented immigrants who allegedly had communist leanings or those he perceived as a threat to farmworkers who were here legally.
But both men made a huge difference. They showed all of us how powerful we can be if we stand up for our beliefs, even if it means breaking the rules, even if it means risking our lives.
Randy Jurado Ertll (www.randyjuradoertll.com) is the author of the book “The Life of an Activist: In the Frontlines 24/7.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.