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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa to Donate Historic Photo with César Chávez to McAllen Heritage Center

“In His Own Words": The Exhibit That Bridges Generations and Inspires Change in McAllen

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Senator Juan 'Chuy' Hinojosa stands resolute at the podium during a 1980s rally for farmworker justice in San Juan, Texas. Beside him is the indomitable César Chávez, a meeting of minds committed to change. The photograph will be donated to McAllen Heritage Center, and will serve as as a living testament to the ongoing struggle for farmworker rights and a call to collective action. 'Si Se Puede' echoes through the generations, reminding us that the march for justice is far from over. Black and white photo courtesy Senator Hinojosa. The color photo is by Roberto Hugo González
Senator Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa stands resolute at the podium during a 1980s rally for farmworker justice in San Juan, Texas. Beside him is the indomitable César Chávez, a meeting of minds committed to change. The photograph will be donated to McAllen Heritage Center, and will serve as as a living testament to the ongoing struggle for farmworker rights and a call to collective action. ‘Si Se Puede’ echoes through the generations, reminding us that the march for justice is far from over. Black and white photo courtesy Senator Hinojosa. The color photo is by Roberto Hugo González

Texas Border Business

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By Roberto Hugo González

At a time when the country feels increasingly polarized, the McAllen Heritage Center’s new exhibition serves as a reminder of the power of collective action. Named “In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César Chávez,” the exhibit offers a rich, multifaceted view of Chávez’s tireless work in the broader movement for farmworker rights.

Featuring 38 photographs paired with excerpts from Chávez’s speeches, interviews, and writings, the exhibition spans from August 2, 2023, to August 31, 2023, and stands as a vital cultural and educational milestone for McAllen and beyond.

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A Valuable Addition to the Exhibit

However, the McAllen Heritage Center is about to become even more compelling, thanks to a generous contribution from Texas State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa. Upon reading articles published by Texas Border Business about public reactions to Chávez’s exhibition, Senator Hinojosa felt compelled to share a personal piece of history. Via text, the Senator sent over a historic photo featuring him at a podium, addressing farmworkers with César Chávez beside him.

The photo captures a crucial moment from an era when farmworkers had little to no rights, often working under exhausting conditions. According to Senator Hinojosa, the image was taken during a rally in San Juan to unite people for a “March for Justice.” Farmworkers, at that time, were suffering from low wages and terrible working conditions, including exposure to harmful pesticides.

The photo will now join the McAllen Heritage Center’s collection, a donation that Senator Hinojosa plans to personally deliver to the museum’s director, Elva M. Cerda.

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When Movements Intersect: Senator Hinojosa’s Experience with Chávez

Senator Hinojosa’s photo isn’t just a fascinating piece of history; it’s also an account of his personal interaction with César Chávez. Back in the 1980s, when Senator Hinojosa first ran for state representative, he had the opportunity to work closely with Chávez. They both were active in the Valley, organizing farmworkers and pushing for legislative change. Chávez focused on essential needs, such as proper sanitation and safer working conditions, that were often overlooked but crucial for the well-being of farm workers.

“Because of Chávez’s leadership at that time and getting the farmworkers involved in organizing, we were able to have a tremendous impact not only in changing the pesticide laws but also in providing ice water to workers on the fields and also providing a bathroom for the women and the men,” Senator Hinojosa recalls.

“In His Own Words” goes beyond mere documentation; it aims to examine the life experiences and philosophical influences that motivated Chávez to dedicate himself fully to improving the lives of American farm workers. With Senator Hinojosa’s contribution, the photo is not just a look back at history but a living testament to the ongoing struggle for farmworker rights.

As the exhibit continues attracting attention and inspiring conversations, it also serves as a reminder of the collective will be needed to bring about social change. It becomes increasingly clear that the legacies of those like Chávez and Senator Hinojosa continue to shape and influence the present, proving that the march for justice is far from over.

A Tale of Two Leaders

At a glance, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and César Chávez may appear as figures from different walks of life, each with their own distinctive contributions to society. However, what connects them transcends time, space, and occupation—shared experiences and an indomitable commitment to farmworker rights. The McAllen Heritage Center’s exhibition, “In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César Chávez,” has given the community more than just a glimpse into history; it has also offered the Senator a platform to share his personal experiences.

From the Cotton Fields to Law and Legislation

“Yes, it’s true. I grew up picking cotton, tomatoes, onions—name it, and we did it,” recounts Senator Hinojosa, who became acquainted with Chávez when he was already a practicing attorney. These early experiences were not merely manual labor for young Hinojosa; they were vivid, firsthand illustrations of farmworkers’ challenges. When he encountered Chávez, their mutual understanding and goals were almost immediate.

So, how did these two men initially meet? “Well, we actually met and shook hands. I knew him by reputation, so it was very exciting for me at that time to meet César Chávez in person,” says Senator Hinojosa. “He had a quite peaceful demeanor about him. He instilled confidence and inspired people.”

The Background of the Historic Photo

The photograph will be donated to the McAllen Heritage Center by Senator Hinojosa captures a rally, not a strike, as some might assume. The occasion? To stand united with farmworkers and demand basic human rights, including access to clean water and proper sanitation. “Our slogan was, ‘Si Se Puede.’ We wanted to send the message to the suffering families that we have to fight back,” he explains.

Senator Hinojosa’s commitment to the cause didn’t end there. “Many of the children of farmworkers are now professionals,” he points out, emphasizing the life-changing impact of education. “I remember looking at those long rows of cotton and thinking to myself, there’s got to be a better way to make a living. And yes, it’s education.”

The Senator’s advocacy for education is deeply rooted in his life story, which includes the painful experience of deportation as a child despite being born in the United States when he was five years of age. He and his mother had to live in Reynosa, Mexico, for a year after she was deported for being undocumented. His family’s struggle for existence living behind a Cantina contrasted with his later achievements, powered by his parents and the community’s value on education. Senator Hinojosa is the oldest of eleven.

When asked if there’s anything else he would like to add regarding César Chávez, Senator Hinojosa credits the collective effort of many local leaders, terming them “the lieutenants for César Chávez.” He acknowledges their hard work in pushing for essential legislative changes that significantly improved the working conditions for farmworkers. “Yes, we changed quite a few laws to provide protection,” he confirms, attributing much of this success to Chávez’s impactful advocacy, including the abolishment of the short handle hoe.

In conclusion, the “In His Own Words” exhibit serves as a retrospective and an ongoing dialogue about social justice, and Senator Hinojosa’s contributions have significantly enriched that narrative. From the cotton fields to the courts and from local rallies to state legislation, the exhibit and Senator Hinojosa’s personal journey exemplify the ripple effect of advocacy and the transformative power of education.

Legislative Impact: Under Chávez’s influence and Hinojosa’s leadership, several key changes occurred: Laws regarding pesticide usage were modified; Workers were provided with essential amenities like ice water and restrooms in the fields; Work compensation laws were passed for injured farm workers, and the short handle hoe, detrimental to workers’ health, was abolished.

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