We proudly joined 7,000 people Saturday night, May 5, as Helen Chavez presided over the Christening and launch of USNS Cesar Chavez. It’s the U.S. Navy’s latest Lewis and Clark-class noncombatant dry cargo ship built at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in the Barrio Logan neighborhood of San Diego. The idea for the name came from unionized shipyard workers, 60 percent of whom are Latino. Cesar rarely accepted personal awards or let people name anything for him. So the Chavez family and farm worker movement acknowledge this honor in the name of all farm workers and Latinos who over the generations built and defended this country.
Cesar grew up outside Yuma, Arizona with two cousins who died in Europe fighting the Nazis while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. His brother-in-law was with the 101st Airborne, from Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge, and was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. Cesar served honorably in the U.S. Navy right after the war.
Cesar was arrested at a Delano movie theater for sitting in the Whites Only section, just before being shipped out to the Pacific. African Americans and Latinos—like Medgar Evers and Cesar Chavez, namesakes of the last two last Navy cargo ships—returned home from the service in the years after World War II determined to see that the country for which they sacrificed lived up to its promise as a beacon to the nations of equality and freedom.
If Cesar had been there in San Diego, he would probably have been embarrassed. But if he knew the Navy was launching the USNS Cesar Chavez, he would likely say, “You don’t know how things have changed.”
Arturo S. Rodriguez, President United Farm Workers of America