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The use of only peaceful means has been central to his thinking since a 1953 showdown in the San Joaquin Valley between his Mexican-American C.S.O. pickets and a public official. Suddenly, he realized that if there were any violence or serious disorder it would be his responsibility. He began reading Gandhi, and he says now: "If the strike means the blood of one grower or one grower's son, or one worker or one worker's son, then it isn't worth it."
In February 1968, Chavez began a 25-day fast "as an act of penance, recalling workers to the nonviolent roots of their movement." Although he in sisted that his decision was essentially a private one, the fast took on a certain circus aura and raised suspicions that its motivation was more theatrical than theological. During the fast, Chavez had to make a court appearance in Bakersfield, on charges of improper picketing, in a case that has yet to come to trial. As he did so, 2,000 farm workers knelt outside in prayer. One woman solemnly asked him if he were indeed a saint. When the fast ended, Senator Robert Kennedy knelt next to him to receive Communion. Some 8,000 others joined them in Delano's Memorial Park for a bread-breaking ceremony.
The fast, and Chavez's years of 12-to 16-hour days, took their toll. Last September he suffered a muscular breakdown in his back—he had been in pain for years before that—and found his legs nearly paralyzed. After spending more than two months in traction, he has now substantially recovered, but is still bedridden much of the time. Instead of spending long hours driving around the state, he receives a constant stream of subordinates at his bedside.
Chavez's religious conviction mingles with the exigencies of the movement. He opposes birth control for his people, but only partly out of conventional Catholicism; he argues that smaller families would diminish the numerical power of the poor. A priest brings him Communion daily. To Correspondent Anson he explained: "God prepares those who have to suffer and take punishment. Otherwise, how could we exist? How could the black man exist? There must be something special. I really think that He looks after us."
Cesar Chavez came to his mission from a background of poverty and prejudice that is a paradigm of that of many Chicanes. Like most Mexican
Americans, he is of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, with liquid brown eyes, deeply bronze skin and thick, jet-black hair. He was born on an 80-acre farm in Arizona's Gila Valley near Yuma, where his parents tried to scratch a living from the arid desert earth. Chavez met racial hostility early in daily rock fights between Anglo and Chicano kids at the village school.
The farm failed in the Depression, and when Chavez was ten, the family packed everything it owned into a decrepit automobile and headed across the Colorado River into California. In Oxnard, Chavez's father found work threshing lima beans; when all the beans were harvested, the family took off, looking for other jobs and often turning up just a few days after a crop was in.
Anglos on the Left
That first winter back in Oxnard, with the little money earned in the fields already gone, was the family's worst time. Cesar's brother Richard remembers: "There was this nice lady there, and