The Mexican American and the Church


Chavez, Cesar




Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) was a Mexican-American labor activist who founded the United Farm Workers labor union to protect the rights of migrant workers. Chavez brought national attention to his cause by organizing nonviolent protests, including hunger strikes, in the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In 1968 he went on a widely publicized twenty-five day fast that ended with an outdoor Roman Catholic Mass. During this fast he wrote the speech included here, a plea for the Church to realize a calling to be God's presence in the world, a calling that in Chavez's view primarily involves serving the world's poor. But Chavez has a radical view of how that service should take place: he exhorts his listeners to engage the poor directly, to take the money spent on food baskets for the needy and use it instead "for effective action to eradicate the causes of poverty." The speech raises hard questions about the best use of charity and about the role of religion in bringing about social change.

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Faith and BeliefGiving and ReceivingMoney and WealthMotives and ValuesOrganizing and ActivismPoverty and NeedPower and PrivilegeServing and VolunteeringSocial and Political Change

Big Questions

What is the relationship between money and power?What are the best ways to organize people and spur them to action?What does it mean to be an organizer or an activist? What defines this role?How should we respond to people and communities in need?In what ways does having money give us power?What is power? How does it work?Do acts of service lead to social change?What enables change? What gets in the way?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. How does Chavez describe most of his friends' first reactions to the strike? What do they do and why?
  2. Why does Chavez emphasize the need for a friendly spiritual guide? How does friendliness, above other attributes, address different needs?
  3. Who knows that there is “tremendous spiritual and economic power in the church” and why do they choose to keep it for themselves?
  4. Should we support institutions that we do not benefit from solely because they help others? Can you think of examples of this in your own life?
  5. What is Chavez advocating for when he laments the fact that “money is spent for food baskets for the needy instead of for effective action to eradicate the causes of poverty”? Is one more important than the other? Why or why not?
  6. Does community organizing and direct action have a greater impact than direct service? What's the difference in impact?
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