Celebrate the Real Cesar Chavez on National Border Control Day

    Cesar Chavez in 1979. (Library of Congress)

    “You can’t forget what he taught us by looking at that statue.”

    That’s what President Biden said about the bust of Cesar Chavez sitting on a table behind his desk in the Oval Office. The occasion was Biden’s proclamation declaring Wednesday as Cesar Chavez Day, on what would have been the late labor leader’s 94th birthday.

    Anticipating the president’s remarks, I speculated over at American Greatness what the bust of Chavez would say to the president if it could talk. It would teach him something very different from what Biden seems to have learned from looking at it, if the proclamation and the accompanying video message are any indication.

    There’s a reason Chavez’s birthday is increasingly being commemorated as National Border Control Day – he was a fierce opponent of illegal immigration (and guest-worker programs). He understood the foundational truth of employer-employee relations: Workers have more bargaining power if their numbers are not artificially swollen by loose borders and easy illegal entry. That’s why Chavez went so far as to say that he’d support the deportation even of his own mother if she were an illegal alien undermining his efforts to bargain for higher wages for farmworkers.

    In his video message, the president said “there’s no more fitting tribute to his memory” than to “continue fighting for the rights, health, and dignity of farmworkers.” But IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE Biden touts his support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 1603), which amnesties current farmworkers via a system of indenture lasting as long as eight years, and expands the existing guest-worker program while inserting an indenture mechanism into it as well. Indentured servitude and increased importation of new workers are curious ways of helping farmworkers defend their rights, health, and dignity.

    And the White House is not only retailing the revisionist lie of Chavez as a supporter of weak borders; it also implicitly tries to shoehorn him into the mold of identity politics, as an ethnic chauvinist along the lines of what used to be called the National Council of La Raza. I say implicitly because Biden doesn’t come out and say this but instead signals it in a couple of ways. He pronounced Chavez’s first name in Spanish as “say-zar,” when in fact the man always pronounced it as it is said in English: “see-zer.” In the same vein, the proclamation inserts accent marks over both his first and last names, as you would when writing in Spanish – except that Chavez wrote in English and didn’t use accent marks, either in handwriting or typing.

    In fact, Chavez was the farthest thing from a La Raza crusader. A 1969 New Yorker profile quoted him decrying the racism of ethnic activists: “La raza is a very dangerous concept. I speak very strongly against it among the chicanos.” A 1970 biography quoted one of his deputies describing how Chavez berated the Ford Foundation for starting what became the National Council of La Raza (its name now sanitized to UnidosUS): “The foundation liked the outfit’s sense of pride or something, and Cesar tried to explain to them what the origin of the word was, that it’s related to Hitler’s concept.”

    The Left is so invested in his canonization that it has had to invent a new Cesar Chavez that, in very important respects, bears little resemblance to the actual man.

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