Dear Chávez GoogleGate Critics: César Was No Immigration Nativist… Not Even Close

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?

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So in the interest putting a closure to this debate and actually trying to educate some people, here is the question that we answer in this post:

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:

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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:

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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:

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The rest of the story is included in Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants and the Politics of Ethnicity:

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14 comments
Augustine Thomas
Augustine Thomas

Mexicans have a lot more reason to thank American farmers than Chavez, who never improved their lives economically in any way whatsoever.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog Like we said in the piece, Yes and No. Thanks for linking back to us. We never said Chávez didn’t speak out against the immigration system, and like we said in the piece it was also political maneuvering, which all the sources confirm. The 1974 letter where he supports amnesty is a little known-fact that you gloss over in your argument, which you state, and we state ours. Let the readers decide. Peace.

openbordersblog
openbordersblog

 @latinorebels I agree that the readers should decide. But let them take all of the evidence into account - Chavez's campaign to report undocumented workers to ICE, his demands that Congress increase INS enforcement, his personal communications that show antipathy towards all undocumented immigrants, and his lack of enthusiasm on promoting immigration reform.

 

If you had included Frank Bardacke's definitive UFW history, "Trampling Out the Vintage" and also looked at the media coverage of UFW in the 1980s you would have presented a more critical but more complete analysis of Chavez.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog FYI, have our editors in Bay Area locating the 1974 letter. Should have it by Monday/Tuesday.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog No worries, thanks again for the conversation. It is always cool to connect with those who link to our pieces. We should have more up in the next few days and we plan to address the 1979 and later years as well, and when we get the letter, it should help shed some light as well. Have a great night!

openbordersblog
openbordersblog

 @latinorebels Yes, we're in agreement on that point. The "reinvention" was a reference to the immigration rallies on Chavez Day. While I do get your purpose in countering the particular narrative that Chavez was against amnesty, I called you guys apologists for downplaying the degree to which he was personally involved in pushing the UFW towards anti-immigrant politics, even as late as 1979. And this is the internet after all, so one can't help but throw shrill labels like "apologist" around.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog One more thing: the publication of the 1974 letter would make sense given that after the failure of the Campaign for Illegals, Chávez was losing support within the Chicano movement. Hence the political necessity we suggest.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog By the way, we read your critique of our "reinvention" and we just way to say that you are a bit off in your interpretation. Our response:

 

He only opposed scabs who were undocumented and [César Chávez] wasn’t responsible for the UFW’s Minutemen-like patrolling of the Arizona-Mexico border: Chávez was not there in Yuma,  but you must have not read the excerpt we refer to. Some undocumented workers struck with the UFW and some did not. So for those who did join the UFW, why did they join? If you claim that the UFW was 100% anti-immigrant. that Yuma passage and its details would counter that.

"He ultimately came to support immigrant rights in 1974 when he outlined his views in a letter to the San Francisco Examiner:" Again we put it in the context of the political necessity. Did you not read the detailed piece? Even the author of the piece admits that Chávez had to be delicate about it.

 

The crux of all this is simple and it is also one of the conclusions made here: comparing Chávez's views on immigration and equating to current hard-line restrictive immigration hawks is like comparing apples to oranges. This all stemmed from the "outrage" that Chávez was featured on a Doodle for Google on Easter Sunday. People were quick to "prove" that Chávez was a Latino nativist. We dispute that. That is too much, but to say that we are "reinventing" him is also inaccurate. but hey, if we are your straw man, then we take that as a compliment. We understand that you need to feed the narrative to those who don't agree with us.

openbordersblog
openbordersblog

 @latinorebels I couldn't find the letter in my searching so I'd be interested to see it, but it might be difficult to get. I may head to the Library of Congress soon and look for it there... I'll send it your way if I find it.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog And Chávez was anti-strikebreaking and against the companies that hired unauthorized workers to break those strikes. That is different from saying that you think we said that Chávez was for comprehensive reform, but from what we have read and studied, he understood that the system was broken and it was benefitting union or those unauthorized. We are just responding to the critics who boldly proclaim that Chávez did not support amnesty, etc. Within the political necessity, he did. Thanks again. We will share more, especially the 1974 letter he wrote.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog Our intent was to address specific points about the wet lines and Chávez's actions in the early 70s and how his position evolved. That was all.

latinorebels
latinorebels moderator

 @openbordersblog Like we said in the piece, it was political necessity. The fact that you claim we are apologists is a bit off and inaccurate. The issue is a complex one, and we are aware of Berdacke’s book, and one its biggest faults is his lack of knowledge regarding the UFW within the bigger context of overall Mexican American movement at the time. Other people who also were with Chávez at the time tell different accounts. Such is history and how it is shared. Once we have more to share, we will. Thanks again for the comments.

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