Hispanic Heritage Month: Jovita Idar and Cesar Chavez

Compiled and written by Adrian Clark, RVU Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Jovita Idár

Jovita Idár was a Mexican-American journalist who advocated for the civil rights of her people through her writing, particularly for women and children.

Jovita, who was named after her mother, was born in the Texas border town of Loredo in 1885. Her family was rather prosperous which afforded her opportunities that were not available to many of her neighbors within the town’s Mexican-American community. She received a good education and then earned a teaching certificate.

Frustrated by the lack of educational resources available to Chicano students in Loredo, she abandoned teaching and began to pursue journalism working at her father’s newspaper. The newspaper, La Cronica, was a major advocate for Mexican-American civil rights. By 1910, just across the border, the Mexican Revolution had begun. During this period, Idár become president of the League of Mexican Women which sought to improve educational opportunities for Mexican-American children, further women’s rights, and end the lynching of Mexican-Americans.

In 1913, while the Revolution was underway, Nuevo Loredo—the town’s sister community across the Mexican border—was attacked. Idár joined a contingent of women who crossed to the border to tend to the wounded. When she returned to Loredo, she began writing for another publication, El Progresso, where she published an article critical of President Woodrow Wilson and the Texas Rangers. This article prompted the Rangers to descend upon the office of El Progresso in an attempt to shut down the newspaper. Idár famously stood at the front door of the newspaper office and held off the contingent of Texas Rangers. The Rangers returned later when Idár was not in the office and destroyed the facility.

Years later, Idár founded her own weekly newspaper and, after moving to San Antonio, established a free kindergarten. She died in San Antonio in 1946.

César Chávez

César Chávez was a labor and civil rights activist, as well as the co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association and United Farm Workers labor union. He became an American icon for labor unions and groups and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Born in Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927, Césario Chávez grew up in a home where Spanish was spoken. When he entered school, he was forced to speak only English and to change his name to César. While he was still young, his family endured significant financial difficulties which transitioned them from a comfortable living environment into poverty. They moved from Arizona to California, seeking a better life but continued to live in poverty. The family moved often and young César attended many schools before finally becoming a farm laborer after only completing junior high school.

He served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946, then returned to working in the fields. He collaborated with social justice activist, Fred Ross, in 1953 to establish a chapter of the Community Service Organization in San Jose, California; he was elected vice president. During this period, he became interested in union organizing and the process of non-violent protest. By the late 50s, he had become firmly established as a community organizer, focusing on the plight of poor Mexican laborers working in the United States. By 1962, he—along with Delores Huerta, his “lifelong ally”—formed the National Farm Workers Association. From this point, Chávez and his life’s work became part of American history.

Much has been written about the life of César Chávez and how this man who grew up in poverty with little formal education was able to accomplish so much. Despite his efforts and success at union organizing, negotiating with agricultural companies, and civil rights activism, it is reported he continued to view himself primarily as a community organizer. His focus on improving the lives of the poor, particularly those within the community of Mexican farm laborers, was relentless.

Chávez remained highly active until 1993 when, at age 66, he died unexpectedly in his sleep while spending the night at the home of a friend. He has received numerous honors and awards including a national monument in Keene, California, and the designation of a national holiday established in 2014.

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