The results of the presidential election prompted me to visit my friend, Oscar, at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange last weekend. For over two decades, Oscar has directed the day labor hiring site day after day, week after week, year after year. He is a personal friend and hero. I went to see Oscar because I wondered how the day laborers were reacting to the news, but to be candid, Oscar is such a man of peace and wisdom that I anticipated the visit would be good for me, too. I miscalculated the election itself, but at least I got that one right.
Oscar was a Cesar Chavez apprentice back in the day and traveled with Cesar to all sorts of interesting places and situations. It was fascinating to hear him make connections between then and now. As the world remembers, Cesar’s activism was strong yet nonviolent and eternally optimistic. Si, se puede! I think we all need a good helping of strong, nonviolent optimism right now.
As we visited, Oscar recalled times when Cesar was criticized for meeting with government officials who were seen as his direct enemies. Many supporters of the farm workers could not even bring themselves to say the names of those opposition leaders and could hardly stomach witnessing Cesar shake hands, pose for pictures, and sit in conversation with people they believed to be evil. Cesar was willing to talk with them anyway. Oscar explained Cesar’s approach: On behalf of others, he was always willing to talk with anyone to advance the cause regardless of his personal feelings or the reaction it generated.
It is far too easy to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and forego the arduous task of seeking to engage and understand those in opposition, but we will only move forward if we are willing to talk to each other. That, my friends, requires us to put the needs of others ahead of our own and even risk ridicule from our own people.
Thanks to Cesar for living this out. Thanks to Oscar for reminding me.
Si, se puede!