UPDATE: We did locate a 1972 interview where Chávez explains the tension and context between farmworkers and migrant workers. He mentions that the company brought in “220 wetbacks, these are the illegals” to take over jobs. He places blames on the agricultural companies for denying the workers’s right to organize. Such comments like these were common for Chávez until he was criticized by Mexican Americans groups for his stance, which the rest of this article explains, and how that stance changed.
Ahh, César Chávez GoogleGate, a day we will likely never forget. Much has been written so far, so we will not rehash it here.
We just want to address one “fact” that the mostly conservative crowd is bringing up again, as if it were some breaking news that suddenly discredits the legacy of Chávez (that would be César, and not Hugo). There are now so many definitive “expert” voices saying that César Chávez consistently opposed illegal immigration all his life. That would be partially true if César had left this world in early 1970s, but he didn’t, and by 1974, his views had changed. Even the Daily Caller admits to that. But what do facts matter?
Was César Chávez consistently opposing illegal immigration and was he one of the country’s most anti-immigrant voices of his time?
Answer: Yes. And no. Mostly no. He changed his positions and at one point even wrote this in a 1974 open letter in The San Francisco Examiner: “the illegals [are] our brothers and sisters.”(ahh, the 70s, when PC language was not in vogue) History and scholarship would suggest that his positions were to protect the UFW, but in the end, he realized that the political winds were shifting, meaning that people should know their history and what actually happened before jumping to conclusions. Chávez’s views had more to do with how the government and businesses viewed immigration and why the system was broken. In fact, if people actually read the sources, Chávez’s views were not so either/or. What follows is what we found to prove this.
Unlike the one-sided and not fully-researched sources that are being brought up by current outlets, we wanted to share with more scholarly sources about this complexity, so that you can the full picture of it. These first set images come from the book César Chávez: A Triumph of the Spirit:
We will get to the 1974 letter in a minute, but also wanted to share what the book says about the “wet lines” that have become the rallying cry from current conservative writers when it comes to Chávez:
The “wet line” narrative is not as simplistic as what many columnists have presented as fact. (Chávez wasn’t even in Arizona at that time, according to the books and sources we read.) And what about the 1974 open letter to the San Francisco Examiner? What does that have to say about Chávez’s positions? Here is what Randy Shaw’s book says, where Chávez supported amnesty for undocumented workers, the very same workers he was opposing before:
The rest of the story is included in Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants and the Politics of Ethnicity: