SAN JOSE — As President Joe Biden settled into the Oval Office on Wednesday, Rachel Garcia was happy to see a bust of civil rights leader and farm workers’ union organizer Cesar Chavez in a prominent spot right behind the Resolute Desk.
For many, Chavez represents the struggles of farm workers across California and the country who organized for unions and better working conditions at a time when they faced racial prejudice and systematic silencing.
But for Garcia, who is Chavez’ great-niece, he is just “tio.”
Standing in the courtyard of her childhood home — the same house on the East Side of San Jose that the Chicano leader lived in from 1951 to 1953 while he labored at nearby apricot orchards — Garcia said she was honored to see that Biden chose her great-uncle to honor in the Oval.
“It kind of gives you hope,” she said, flanked by an apricot tree to her left. “It makes me think that he’ll help the people. That’s what my tio was about. If that’s who he looks up to then I feel very honored and hopeful.”
Chavez is among several American leaders Biden has chosen to display in the Oval Office, including a bust of Martin Luther King, a massive portrait of Franklin Roosevelt, a painting of Benjamin Franklin and others.
Garcia said she’d like to meet the president and ask him why he chose to honor Chavez. Though she didn’t get a chance to know him, Garcia met Chavez as a child. She said she remembers the positive energy her great-uncle gave off, and the legacy he left with his family has also left a lasting imprint in her life.
She said she’s focused on living the life of non-violence that Chavez advocated for. In his struggle to unionize Mexican immigrants working in the fertile valleys of California, Chavez — like other civil rights leaders of the time — advocated for peaceful demonstrations and holding power to account through non-belligerent means.
“It wasn’t just the non-violence thing,” Garcia said. “He was brave enough to be a voice to the voiceless.”
On his first day in office, Joe Biden took several far-reaching steps to undo his predecessor’s landmark executive orders restricting immigration to the U.S. In his first day, Biden signed executive orders halting construction of the border wall with Mexico, lifted a ravel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries and reversed plans to exclude undocumented people from the 2020 census.
Biden has alo promised to work to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act, a program started in 2012 shielding hundreds of thousands of people who came to the US as kids from being deported.
Garcia said she hopes that by keeping Cesar Chavez at the top of his mind, in the same way he keeps Chavez’ bust in his office, Biden will continue to advocate for immigrants and farm workers.
Recalling the grueling conditions farm workers had to endure in California last year — beaten by unceasing heat and choked by wildfire smoke — Garcia said farmworkers and immigrant workers face tough jobs today. She said she wants Biden to focus on helping working people.
“I want him to ask himself ‘what would Cesar do?’ in the White House,” Garcia said. “I’d like to know why he looks up to him, why he would use him as an example and what he means for him. For us he’s a pillar of the community. It says a lot to me that he chose him to honor.”
Dan Carter was a reporter for nomad Labs, before becoming the lead editor. Dan has over forty bylines and has reported on countless stories concerning all things related to tech and science. Dan studied at CSUF.