Cesar Chavez (1927-1999) remains far and away the most important Latino leader in U.S. history. He started off as a field hand and rose to national prominence by taking on the money and power of California's agricultural industry. He was no saint and there were missteps along the way, but no one can doubt Chavez's integrity and zeal.

That's the portrait of Chavez painted in Miriam Pawel's impressive biography The Crusades of Cesar Chavez. She emphasizes this Mexican-American leader's character qualities. Chavez was a single-minded man who focused intensely on what he wanted to do. Perseverance was in his blood from the start. Chavez learned patience and equanimity during strikes, boycotts, and negotiations. He also was a believer in doing the right thing as shown in several lengthy and dangerous fasts.

Chavez was an avid believer in the ideals of brotherhood and nonviolence. While others around him tired of these noble qualities, he remained loyal to them. He made many speeches and met with political and industry leaders. But perhaps the most spiritually profound thing he ever said was this:

"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 a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others. God help us to be men."

To Name This Day:


For another view of Cesar Chavez, watch the biopictureCesar Chavez, directed by Diego Luna; Michael Pena stars as Chavez.

Spiritual Practice

The primary emphases of Cesar Chavez's work as a labor organizer and civil rights activist came from his study and admiration of Mahatma Gandhi. He subscribed totally to his ideal of nonviolence in the struggle against forces of great power and malevolence. Chavez was a Catholic, but we're sure he would agree with this statement from Now! The Art of Being Truly Present by Jean Smith, a Buddhist.

"We may feel powerless in the face of the large and small hostilities lacerating our planet, but we are not. Peace, both individual and global, begins with us. When we embrace a spiritual path that brings tranquility to our hearts and minds, we are taking the first step toward bringing peace to the world. Inner calmness will create gentle speech and moral actions, and we will replace self-absorption and ill will with a genuine caring for others. As we bring these qualities to communications with our families and friends, people we work with, and those in public life who serve us, we radiate peace out into the world.

"May my commitment
to not harming others
through my thoughts, words,
and deeds
inspire me to work
to bring peace to all beings
with whom I share this world."

Reflect upon how Chavez in his day embodied the qualities of peace. How can you do the same in your communications with family, friends, colleagues, and those in public life? Copy the commitment statement on a piece of paper or type it into your phone to carry with you in honor of Chavez.