Submission: Honoring The Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Submission: Honoring The Legacy of Cesar Chavez

This piece was submitted by David G. Oddo, an activist and retired bilingual teacher. He resides in Chula Vista and can be reached at: [email protected].

I have been an enthusiastic supporter of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers’ movement since 1968. In September of that year, I was a freshman in high school and the United Farm Workers-led grape boycott was in full swing. One day, my father handed me a “Boycott Grapes” button and he told me I should wear it to school. When I asked my father how I should respond to questions regarding the boycott, he calmly told me: “Tell your fellow students that you like to eat grapes, however, you do not like the way in which farm workers are being treated.”

Eight years after surviving my first “baptism under fire,” I became an active participant in the farm workers’ nonviolent struggle for social justice. From 1976 through 1991, I marched with Cesar Chavez, walked dozens of picket lines, and spent two weeks in Ohio as a volunteer with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. I also had the privilege of meeting Cesar on two occasions.

In September 1991, however, disaster struck. While vacationing in Puerto Vallarta, I became seriously ill with a neurological condition known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Within a week I had become completely paralyzed and was in danger of losing the ability to breathe. I was immediately airlifted to the intensive care unit of Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, where I nearly died due to complications from my illness.

Fortunately, my condition gradually improved. After a seven-month stint at Mercy and Sharp Rehabilitation hospitals, I was able to return to my home in San Diego. However, the next several years were spent confined to a wheelchair. As well, I faced the daunting task of relearning to walk. To be completely honest, I do not know how I survived those difficult times. The support of my family and friends was essential to my recovery. Perhaps I was just plain stubborn, especially after being told by my doctors that I would never walk again.

During those difficult days, I would often think of the many accomplishments of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers’ movement. For example, the banning of dangerous agricultural chemicals such as DDT; the elimination of the infamous short-handled hoe, and the enactment of a collective bargaining law for California farm workers. Perhaps the most enduring legacy, from a personal perspective, was the “Si Se Puede” (Yes, it can be done) attitude of the farm workers’ movement. This was a source of inspiration as I was recovering from my illness.

It has been many years since I became seriously ill. However, I have almost completely recovered from my ailment. Despite numerous setbacks, I am currently able to walk with the assistance of a walker and a quad cane. And the wheelchair is long gone.

More importantly, I am now physically able to rejoin the struggle for farm worker justice. I realize that I have a difficult journey on the road to recovery. As well, there is much work to be done with regard to our nation’s agricultural workers. Indeed, the vast majority continue to labor under hazardous conditions, earn poverty-level wages, and are excluded from the benefits of collective bargaining and unionization. Also, many farmworker’s children are forced to work in the fields to help support their families.

As I move forward with these challenges, it is my sincere hope that the spirit of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers’ movement will guide me on my journey.

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