State Holiday for Wet-Back Icon

On Wednesday 31st of March, California will celebrate a state holiday in memory of César Chávez (1927-93) the legendary leader of the “wet-backs” – the migratory Mexican farm workers. Encouraged by Robert Kennedy he became one of the most pragmatic, successful and endearing figures in the history of American civil rights. I was present at his famous 1963 speech in the University of Southern California to an invited audience of students on sports scholarships in the Los Angeles area. Braving the wrath of his listeners he said there was no hope for poor White, Hispanic or Black boys until they stopped seeing professional sport as their only means of salvation. Asking, “How many basketball players do you think America needs?” he insisted that the sure way out of poverty lay in trade apprenticeships or college study. The year before he died he rightly received the Pacem in Terris – an international award given in memory of the beloved Pope John.


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