Diversity Perspectives: Christine Chavez recalls legacy of her renowned grandfather

  • May 1, 2024
  • By Kurt Greenbaum
  • 2 minute read

Christine Chavez remembers her grandmother, Helen, wife of renowned labor organizer Cesar Chavez, like many of us recall our doting grandparents—but only to a point.

Sure, she cooked for everyone and shared stories among her 32 grandchildren.

“She was a traditional Nana, where she would cook and do all those things,” Christine recalled. “But also very not traditional. Because when I would go to do civil disobedience, I would call her the night before and say, ‘I’m going to get arrested with the janitors.’ She would say, ‘That’s so wonderful!’ She would tell everyone, ‘She’s getting arrested.’”

The audience at WashU Olin’s Diversity Perspectives event on April 26, 2024, laughed at the memory as Chavez shared stories about her grandfather and how his work shaped her as a labor and civil rights organizer in her own right.

In her day job, Chavez works for the US Department of Agriculture as public affairs outreach coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

(My grandfather) knew that having people with different backgrounds and experiences could only serve the union better because they would bring different opinions.  

Christine Chavez

Chavez’ anecdotes brought forward the story of her grandfather and his path toward national notoriety as the organizer of the United Farm Workers labor union precursor. She spoke of how his work inspired her own journey and how she’s continually reminded of his famous quote: “We don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation.”

Cesar Chavez’ global reputation came into play as Christine shared another anecdote from her own recent past. At a fundraising dinner in her grandfather’s name not too long ago, she was puzzled by the sudden influx of boxing promoters who arrived at the event. They donated swag to be auctioned off and a $5,000 check to the cause Christine Chavez was representing.

They soon realized the confusion: The promoters thought the fundraiser was for Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez. Her husband urged her to approach the promoters and ask why they were there. “But what if they want to take the money back?” Christine said. Still, she approached the promoters.

“I got over and said, actually, this is a fundraiser for the farmworkers and Cesar Chavez, the labor leader. He looked at me and he goes, ‘Ah, that dude was cool, too. You can keep the money.’”

Perhaps the most resonant message she shared was recalling her grandfather’s insistence on building diverse coalitions for the causes he stood for—farmworkers and laborers, immigration and gay rights, among them.

“I think that one of the greatest things that the United Farmworkers Union realized early on was that organizational diversity is an absolute strength and key component to build a lasting organization,” she said. “I always remind people that my grandfather was often criticized for having non-Latinos in leadership positions.

"He knew that having people with different backgrounds and experiences could only serve the union better because they would bring different opinions.”

About the Author

Kurt Greenbaum

Kurt Greenbaum

As communications director for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to find and share great stories about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I've worked for the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management as communications director and as a journalist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sun-Sentinel in South Florida and the Chicago Tribune.

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