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The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez

The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez: Crossing Religious Borders

Luis D. León
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez
    Book Description:

    The Political Spirituality of Cesar Chavez: Crossing Religious Bordersmaps and challenges many of the mythologies that surround the late iconic labor leader. Focusing on Chavez's own writings, León argues thatLa Causacan be fruitfully understood as a quasi-religious movement based on Chavez's charismatic leadership, which he modeled after Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Chavez recognized that spiritual prophecy, or political spirituality, was the key to disrupting centuries-old dehumanizing narratives that conflated religion with race. Chavez's body became emblematic for Chicano identity and enfleshed a living revolution. While there is much debate and truth-seeking around how he is remembered, through investigating the leader's construction of his own public memory, the author probes the meaning of the discrepancies. By refocusing Chavez's life and beliefs into three broad movements-mythology, prophecy, and religion-León brings us a moral and spiritual agent to match the political leader.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95948-4
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. (RE)INTRODUCTION. Enfleshment: Cesar’s Body
    (pp. 1-32)

    On Easter Sunday, 1966, Cesar Chavez and a cadre of Catholic priests, nuns, rabbis, and Protestant ministers gathered in California’s capital, Sacramento, culminating a two-hundred-and-fifty-mile pilgrimage.² Events there included ecumenical religious services, one led by a Protestant minister, the other by a Catholic priest. Later, converging on the steps of the Capitol, they held a giant ceremony; among the ten thousand in attendance were Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and humanists, as well as Christians of many varieties.³ The diversity of the congregation illustrates Chavez’s ability to organize across lines of religion and culture, amalgamating many distinct communities. He recruited and “organized”...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Mythology: Think Different
    (pp. 33-74)

    In 1998 a black-and-white photo of a beleaguered Cesar Chavez graced billboards, magazines, and television screens across the United States as part of Apple Corporation’s promotional campaign asking consumers to “think different.” His countenance is somber. On his right shoulder he carries a shovel, a rake, and a hoe. The splintered handles of his tools and his demeanor evoke a man carrying a rugged cross. His eyes avoid the camera, as he stares down at the earth. Others memorialized in the campaign included John Lennon, Gandhi, and Martha Graham. Several variations of a poetic text were released as part of...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Prophecy: In the Path of Gandhi and Martin Luther King
    (pp. 75-115)

    On August 8, 1994, President Bill Clinton, awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to the UFW’s founder, eulogized him: “Cesar Chavez . . . had become a champion of working people everywhere. . . . He was, for his own people, a Moses figure. The farm workers who labored in the fields and yearned for respect and self-sufficiency pinned their hopes on this remarkable man, who with faith and discipline, with soft-spoken humility and amazing inner strength led a very courageous life and in so doing brought dignity to the lives of so many others and provided for us...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Religion: A Revolutionary Spirit
    (pp. 116-158)

    On Valentine’s Day, 1968, Cesar Chavez announced that he was willing to die for the farm workers, risking his life by abstaining from food for as long as it took to recommit the movement to its nonviolent foundational principles. This was the Fast for Nonviolence, or the love fast. According to Matthiessen, Chavez made the dramatic announcement before the union’s leadership: “Throughout the speech Chavez quoted Gandhi and the Epistles of St. Paul. ‘His act was intensely personal,’ LeRoy Chatfield recalled, ‘and the whole theme of his speech was love. In fact, his last words to us . . ....

  9. CONCLUSION: The Lost Gospel: “God Help Us to Be Men!”
    (pp. 159-178)

    Cesar Chavez designed his own coffin: he instructed his brother Richard, a carpenter, to build a simple pinewood rectangle; the leader wanted the wood to be sanded smooth but did not want it stained or painted. He got what he ordered.³ The funerary procession followed a well-worn path in Delano from Memorial Park, to the Forty Acres—about twelve miles. Chavez’s final pilgrimage was led by a banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe. During the viewing, a flag bearing the UFW logo hung from inside the coffin’s lid. Long adept at spiritual performance, he saved his best for last.


  10. NOTES
    (pp. 179-208)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 209-220)