WALKING IN SEARCH OF CÉSAR CHÁVEZ.
Jorge Chino has watched with both fear and pride over the years as Latinos in this country have risen and fallen with the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Recently the author and activist decided that, amidst this most recent round of Latinophobia, there was only one thing he could really do: take a walk. Chino has decided to walk from Delano to Sacramento, mirroring the walk that farmworkers, César Chávez and others, took in the spring of 1966. The 300-mile pilgrimage of 68 people in support of justice for farmworkers has since become the stuff of legend for Chicano artists and writers. For Chino, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the way times have changed: that there are now more people in prison than on farms.
He begins his journey this week and he hopes to be in Sacramento by Cinco de Mayo.
The journey is something he hopes will give him personal insight, but also an experience he hopes to use for his second novel, The Republic of Aztlán, which is about a family that participated in the original march.
“I will try to do this as close as I can to the original march, including sleeping out in a tent or being host by somebody like they did. If someone wants to feed me great, I will take what I can get,” he said. “I expect to return from this experience with a stronger will to dedicate ten years of my life to build a university and, of course, with the enough ideas to finish the novel The Republic of Aztlán.”
In some ways, Chino thinks Latinos are better off today than they were during the time of Chávez; but in others, he wonders, they may not be. On a recent trip to Delano, he wondered where the artists and activists had gone: “There were no plays, no poetry readings, no art gallery receptions. I hope to see what is there on the route to Sacramento. Did La Causa fail to invigorate the rural communities it came from?”
Chino’s experiences as an immigrant from Mexico, as someone who worked on a mushroom farm, a member of the UFW, who knew Chávez when he was organizing with the UFW, helped shape who he is today. He said that, at the time, it felt like everyone was part of the “Latino community struggle for a better society.”
The current immigration debate is a good example of how Latinos in this country have not achieved the great things he once hoped they would. After 9/11, he said, anti-immigrant hysteria brought down a “cold shower” to open our eyes to the true nature of Latinos’ place in this society. During the pro-immigration reform marches in 2006 he remembered seeing people looking down from skyscrapers on the Chicago marchers wide-eyed at the thought that there were so many immigrants. “They looked scared. I knew then a backlash was going to come and sue it did,” he said.
Nowadays, though, Chino is focused on Mexico, and the university he hopes to build there — and his second book, of course. The impetus for his walk in the first place. Reflecting on Chávez, Chino said that, although the iconic organizer was many things to many people, some good and some not so good, he sees the legacy much more simply.
“I see him like someone who saw the injustice it was being committed against the farmworkers and wanted to do something about it,” Chino said.
With any luck, Chino will be in Sacramento by May 5, with enough inspiration to finish a novel and start a university. Whether or not anyone else ever repeats this walk is up to them, but Chino does recommend that people get moving.
“Of course, I recommend people to walk,” he said. “Walking makes you think.”
Copyright 2013 by Sara Inés Calderón.
Sara Inés Calderón
la vida es dura, pero es bella