GOP Blocks Tribute to Labor Hero Cesar Chavez

In an outrageous move, Senate Republicans blocked a resolution recognizing Chavez's life and work.
If you ask Latinos, young and old, what national figure has most inspired them, chances are they will say Cesar Chavez.

From rural agricultural fields to urban centers across this nation, Chavez's legacy has been profound. As the leader of the first successful farm workers union in American history, he made sure those who brought the food to the tables of America were treated with dignity and paid a fair wage. Quite simply, hundreds of thousands of Americans would not have access to health care, would not have the right to unionize, and would be far more likely to eat foods doused in pesticides if it were not for his lifetime of service.

To mark what would have been Chavez's 81st birthday on March 31, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus, as well as members of Congress unaffiliated with either, devoted time to praise Chavez in the halls of government. Across the country, 65 cities in over 30 states are holding formal celebrations, and 10 states have declared statewide holidays.

The only people who refuse to celebrate, it seems, are some members of the Republican Party.

In an outrageous move, Senate Republicans blocked a resolution recognizing Chavez's life and work. They quietly blocked the resolution using parliamentary procedure, and gave no reason for doing so. Their votes implied that a man who Robert F. Kennedy called "one of the most heroic figures of our time" is not worth honoring, even with a symbolic gesture.

Unfortunately, this kind of insensitivity is part of a broader pattern in the Republican Party, a pattern of actions that is at odds with the values that Latinos hold dear.

Whether it has been blocking health insurance for children, voting against the rights of workers to organize for better wages, stopping comprehensive immigration reform, or preventing Latinos from attending college or joining the military if they are undocumented, even if their parents brought them to the United States in a stroller, Republicans have repeatedly acted against the interests of the Latino community.

If the Republican Party hopes to gain the respect of Latinos, as voters and as citizens, a good first step would be honoring one of the community's most legendary figures.

They will have another chance to do so; a resolution has been introduced in the House of Representatives urging the creation of a national holiday celebrating his life, and encouraging public schools to teach about his work. (Not one House Republican has yet seen fit to announce their support.)

Whether or not we can ever come to agree on policy, we should never have to disagree about the accomplishments of this remarkable American hero. His life is not a political issue; it is a national inspiration.

The resolutions introduced in Congress are not just about honoring one Latino, they are about honoring the values, history and contributions of the Latino community. Can we build a spirit of bipartisanship in Congress strong enough to recognize those values and that history?

In the words of Cesar Chavez, "¡Sí Se Puede!"

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U.S. Rep. Joe Baca, a Democrat from California, is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, is a member of the caucus.