Someday I will write a book (or at least an essay) about the Cesar Chavez that had such a profound influence on me, on the direction my life and career went, on the skills and confidence he helped me to develop, and especially about those special moments that had nothing to do with organizing but allowed me a glimpse into his vision, and his deep spiritual life. I could go on for hours about the incredible training I received—the strategic planning sessions with hundreds of index cards pinned to our boycott house walls, the discussions about mission and finding common ground in order to build coalitions—but it’s hard to convey how important those “other” moments were.
On car trips (when I wasn’t driving) I used to love the way his eyes took in everything around him—reading road and business signs out loud just to hear what they sounded like, somehow commenting on the sociology of the scene without being so crass as to discuss it directly. I’ll never forget when Cesar cooked for us lowly boycotters, and taught me how to make a beautiful macrobiotic kale soup. I’ll never forget our trip to the Jazz Mart in Chicago, in search of a particular 5-star recording of Charlie Parker. I’ll never forget his love of books, and the glee in his face while wandering through the maze in that giant “Strand” bookstore in New York.
I’ll never forget our field trip to the Theosophical Society in Wheaton, IL, and Cesar’s quest for a particular translation of a yogic text—it was so funny when the staff there figured out that Cesar Chavez was in their library and they seemed to come out of the woodwork to meet this visionary that they had read about, who had influenced their own journeys. They of course had no idea that Cesar was so versed in Eastern thought. I loved that day—I got to ask a few questions about his yoga and meditation practice, how he saw no conflict with his Catholic faith—it was just one more reason that I loved this man. That same day we also stopped at an yoga ashram to find Cesar’s book—he didn’t get the one he was looking for but did find a different text (that included the Sanskrit); I wonder if that book is still in his library in the museum. Years later but before I started teaching yoga, I had a dream that Cesar met Yogi Bhajan, founder of Kundalini Yoga in the West, and advised him on his deathbed to “let go—your students are ready to carry on your vision.” I’m sure they knew each other on a different plane.
Perhaps what influenced me most was his vision of a sustainable community economy. I first learned about the Mondragon Cooperatives from Cesar, and became so fascinated by this economic model that I decided to leave the union to pursue these ideas as a career. While there were other staff members that pulled a major guilt trip on me for leaving the union, Cesar himself was very encouraging. I will never forget that. It’s what made him such a great leader—the vision to recognize passion in people, to understand their talents and deep motivations, and to quietly give people the strength to believe in themselves, as well as a vision of real, sustainable social and economic justice. I miss his presence in the world but his spirit will always live on.