1324 GA Highway 49 South | Americus Georgia 31719

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Peacemakers Series – César Chávez

Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.

César Chávez black and white

César Chávez was born on March 31, 1927 to a poor family in Yuma, Arizona. His family farmed land near Yuma and his father also owned a store. The family lost their land and business when the Great Depression hit. They became migrant workers and picked various crops during the different seasons of the year. Chávez dropped out of school around the seventh grade to help his family in the fields. In 1946, he joined the Navy. Chávez served in the Pacific for two years. When he came home in 1948, he married Helen Fabela and they eventually had eight children. They settled down in an East San Jose barrio called Sal Si Puedes (“Get out if you can”).

In 1952, Chávez met Fred Ross and joined the Community Service Organization (CSO). This group helped Mexican Americans with voter registration, citizenship classes, and setting up schools and medical care in the barrios. Chávez worked for CSO for ten years and became the national director. He also continued to read and educate himself. He was influenced by the nonviolent tactics of people like Gandhi. In 1962, he left his steady job at CSO to start a union for farm workers. He founded the National Farm Workers Association and began traveling around to find farmers willing to join.

When we are really honest with ourselves, we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in totally nonviolent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men!

Three years later, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee asked for help from Chávez and his union. They became part of the California grape strike, which lasted from 1965-1970. In 1966, the organizations merged and became the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. Chávez was the head of the group. He used many nonviolent tactics to call attention to the plight of the farm workers and to get better working conditions. His most used tactic was fasting. In 1968, he fasted for 25 days. Chávez continued to fast at various times during his strikes and boycotts.

When the grape strike ended in 1970, Chávez had a contract from the agricultural industry, which was an impressive success. He continued to strike and boycott and each time he gained more support from farm workers and other leaders. His nonviolent tactics worked to give farm workers a better life and way to support their families. Chávez died in his sleep on April 23, 1993. His life and dedication to nonviolence continue to inspire people fighting against injustice today.

Show me the suffering of the most miserable, so I will know my people’s plight. Free me to pray for others, for you are present in every person. Help me take responsibility for my own life, so that I can be free at last. Grant me courage to save others, for in service there is true life. Give me honesty and patience, so that the Spirit will be alive among us. Let the Spirit flourish and grow, so that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice, for they have given us life. Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world. Amen.

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