February, 1992 + San Juan, Texas
During the Sixties, I had respect and love for a number of great people, including Cesar Chavez. He was a man of compassion, whose life was one of integrity, courage, and dedication. I had loved and respected him from afar; I had never met him in person. That was to change in 1992.
The occassion was the United Farm Workers biennial convention. UFW and South Texas Project staffs, amoung a host of like-minded others, had worked for several months and feverishly for weeks, to organize the event. My direct responsibilites were parking, security, and a big part of our closing march. This meant I would be outside a great deal of the time directing volunteers. cars, trucks, and media swarmed into our limited parking areas, which were here, there, and everywhere. If there were any space anywhere, a vehicle of some kind was parked there. Weather predictions promised warmth. Forecasters confidently put the tempurature at 65 degrees on a slightly overcast day without rain. This was ideal for our convention and march.
We all knew our beloved UFW co-founder and acknowledged leader would be there. This would be a momentous event. We all knew it. I had been on tender hooks since arriving at 6:00 AM. I wondered and worried about what I would say or do in his presence. After all, this man had had an audience with the Pope and government officials from the President on down. Cesar was hounded by media of all kinds. He was respected and admired worldwide. This was big stuff for me.
I remember the moment like it happened this morning. I was outside the UFW hall, consumed with my duties. This man moved and lived free from ostentation. He simply walked up to me and thanked me for giving my legal resources to UFW members and other low-income folk. No fuss or ado for him. Here with me was Cesar Chavez himself. I initially felt abashed and akward like a child meeting his legendary grandfather for the first time.
He immediately set me at ease. He was humble in a natural way. We chatted a few minutes. I felt as if he and I were alone in all the world. I was encountering La Causa in person. I was captivated by how quiet he was. Before me stood a man who radiated love and peacefulness. I felt it, without more, as he thanked me and quieted me.
Confidence surged through my being. I was centered, grounded, and exactly where I needed to be. That is a marvelous feeling. I knew this was his gift to me. My father taught me how to die. Cesar was among those who taught me how to live.
As I sit writing, I look up at a photograph of that occasion. I sit there, smiling into the camera, appearing happy. Cesar leans over me. He wears a short sleeve, blue and white striped shirt, which is perhaps a bit small for his chunky and muscular torso. We are shoulder to shoulder; his strong left arm encircles me. A throng of marchers stand behind us. This is a pose he has taken many times, I am sure. Only this time it is he and I.
Shortly thereafter we marched. I stayed close to him, near the front, and watched him deal with the media, well-wishers, and hecklers. He was thoughtful and gracious, no matter how stupid the question or belligerent the opposition.
Over the years and over the miles, I have often thought of that day and that man. Cesar died in 1993. From Cortland State to the UFW, I have been seeking my own way of being in the world that personifies peace and love. Deep in the Rio Grande Valley of extreme south Texas, I had encountered a person who was all I longed to be.