in the Family
The Satya Interview with Christine
Courtesy of Equality California
Few can match the political
prowess of progressive extraordinaire, Christine Chávez, the
granddaughter of beloved labor and civil rights leader César
Chávez (1927-1993). For eight years, Christine served as the
political director of the labor union her grandfather co-founded, United
Farm Workers, and today she works for the Community College League
Following steadfast in her family’s rich tradition of political activism,
Christine is leading the Chávez legacy to success on a wide range of social
justice issues today. By her side are her loyal canines, Buddy and Boycott.
Satya contributing writer, Christine Morrissey, joined Christine
Chávezfor an afternoon quack about foie gras production, marriage, education equality
and, of course, her grandfather’s untold legacy.
You probably get this question on a daily basis, but how did your grandfather
influence you and your work today?
It was always very important to be involved and engaged in the farmworker’s
struggle. Any time we wanted to spend time with him, we would have to go where
he was. Not only did we see him as a farmworker working with other farmworkers,
we also saw him working with different disenfranchised groups, whether gay and
lesbian groups, showing solidarity with other unions or within the animal rights
community. That’s something people completely forget—he was an advocate
for animal rights. I think that really influenced us to get involved one way
or another. He just wanted us to be involved in something, like pick something
and get completely involved in it.
How did you and your grandfather get involved in political campaigns with the
We lived in Morgan Hill, which is in Northern California. We would go down with
my grandfather to LGBT marches in San Francisco. Not only did my grandfather
march with the LGBT community, but members of the LGBT community were some of
the biggest supporters of our grape boycott. A place like San Francisco, where
most Gallo wine was sold, was huge for us. So it was a coalition that went both
My involvement with the LGBT community came about several years ago. Senator
Carole Migden from San Francisco approached me and said, “Look, we are
trying to push through a gay marriage bill.” It was Latinos who weren’t
where we needed them to be on that issue. She wanted me to perform ‘commitment
ceremonies’ as a way to let the Latino community know that somebody like
my grandfather, who they really respected, was a supporter of gay rights. So
I did the ceremonies and it took off from there.
Cultural tradition is one justification for using animals for food or entertainment.
When people make such remarks within the Latino community, how do you fire back?
It’s not part of our culture. It’s all spineless. Cock fighting and
dog fighting is about violence. Do we really want our children to see that? Animals
are not put on this earth to fight, for us make a sport out of it. A great majority
of Latinos do not choose to use animals in that way. But, there are people who
[It’s the same] with the whole foie gras ban issue. One Latino owner [felt
it threatened him] as a Latino business owner, but I don’t think we should
give passes to people because of that. They are still mistreating animals.
Tell us more about your recent success to ban foie gras in California.
To be honest, I didn’t know anything about [foie gras production] until
Lauren Ornelas [of Viva!USA] came to me. Her parents were very involved with
the United Farm Workers in Texas for many years. I was the Political Director
of UFW at that time. [When Lauren called], right away, we were supportive of
it. We watched the video footage. I can’t believe people would still fight
against banning this. But, once you educate people about it, you can sway them
just by showing them it is completely inhumane.
But the Latino business owner put in calls to us and went to the Latino caucus
and put up his case. Luckily, we were able to push that through and we will continue
to do it.
César’s legacy was not just about workers’ rights, it was
also about animal rights. It’s something people have forgotten, like his
position on the LGBT community. People made my grandfather into this non-controversial
angel and that’s just not who he was. He was in your face.
I would love to hear about how you were arrested at the age of four at a grape
What I remember is only from what my parents told me. They were sent to work
on the grape boycott in Michigan. We were out in front of an AM/PM supermarket.
The police came and asked who the ‘picket captain’ was. My mom got
a piece of paper that said ‘picket captain’ and tacked it to my sister,
who was six or seven at the time. My mom said, “She’s the picket
captain and this is the co-captain,” pointing at me. The police asked us
to leave or we would be arrested. My parents said stay put, so we all got arrested.
We went down to the station. They took my parents away. I remember my sister
and I sitting on the desk. We were crying. But, they were very nice and gave
us ice cream.
In our family, it’s a rite of passage [to get arrested]. We all call my
grandmother and say, “I got arrested!” She’s always like “Yay!” I’ve
been arrested a couple of times for the hotel workers campaign, and for the janitors.
We will continue to do these good civil disobedience actions.
The community college system is the most accessible and affordable avenue for
higher education. Tell me about your current work at the Community College League
Community colleges in California always get the short end of the stick. When
you look at the numbers, most people go through the community college system.
So it is ridiculous that we would choose to cut from community colleges first,
when a majority of people don’t go on to a four-year but come through the
community system. A lot of people returning back to school go through the community
system as well.
Tell me about your recent political bid for California State Assembly.
I ran for State Assembly, but was not successful. I got a lot of help from the
animal community, which I was very honored to get. I do plan to run again.
When you win your candidacy for the State Assembly, what will your key platform
Education is big. Also, State Assembly member Mark Leno has introduced the Marriage
Equality bill. If for some reason that does not happen, I would like to carry
that legislation because it is historic. And of course, animal rights issues.
The overpopulation of pets is incredible, especially in our community. I don’t
know that we are effectively reaching the Latino community and saying, “Here
are the benefits of spaying and neutering your pets.” We need to let them
know this is the best way to go.
On a related note, how can people advocating for animals and veganism better
support the labor community?
More than anything, it is just so important to continue building coalitions.
We have a campaign going on at [Threemile Canyon’s] dairy farm [see Satya
October, 2006]. And if you look at the way they are mistreating animals, they
are also mistreating workers. That, right there, is a place we can work together
on animal and labor issues.
There is such a benefit for us to work together. For instance, the whole issue
with foie gras, people said, “Oh, people are going to lose their jobs who
work there.” We can work together to put pressure on the state to do worker
re-training and get state funding.
When did you go vegetarian?
I am still working towards that. But more than half of our family is vegetarian.
Awesome. Just don’t eat Foster Farms, all right?
No way! They are the worst with their workers.
You are such a dynamic individual—active on so many different
question remains, do you ever sleep?
Yes, I sleep with my dog, Buddy. Boycott is too wild. He can’t sleep on
our bed. He’s just too psycho!
To learn about the work of Christine Chávez, visit www.ActionImpact.org.
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