Happy Easter (and more)! (UPDATED: Google’s Chavez commemoration)

Happy and blessed Easter!

“Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting ‘today’ of God,” said Pope Francis last night.

While we’re at it, happy birthday to Cesar Chavez! Besides his birthday, March 31 is also the anniversary of the day he quit his job, in 1962, in order to establish a labor union for migrant farmworkers.  (My article marking the event and its legacy, published last year in America magazine, is here.)

And finally, happy birthday to me. (In case you’re interested, Easter has fallen on my birthday, March 31, twice before in my lifetime, in 2002 and 1991. Last time before that was 1929. Se Dio vuole, I’ll see it happen one more time, in 2024. After that, it won’t happen again until 2086.)

UPDATE, 4/1:Screen shot 2013-03-31 at 11.05.39 AM

It seems Google has been widely criticized for marking Cesar Chavez’s birthday yesterday with his portrait in their homepage logo. I mentioned Chavez’s birthday here too yesterday, along with (and of course in second place to) my Easter greetings.

Big kudos to Matthew Schmidz at the First Things blog for his post, “Why It’s Fitting to Remember Cesar Chavez on Easter Sunday,” not least because he has offered his defense of Google in a forum where he was bound to draw the ire of many readers (and that he has!). Mr. Schmidz’s post is worth your time not only for his insightful comments, but for the two fascinating links he provides.

Speaking of readers’ reactions, one comment left in the combox for the Schmidz post is good for an April Fools Day laugh (though it’s intended in all seriousness, I’m afraid):

With respect to you, Matthew, to your meditation on Chavez, and to the man himself, isn’t it obviously provocative, on the morning most closely associated with Christ, to be featuring someone named Cesar? Isn’t it an undoubted nod to the duality “Caesar and Christ,” a choice of opposites acknowledged by everyone from Will Durant to the writers of the Star Trek episode about 20th-century Rome? And however the editors of Google wish to mask their choice of some kind of Caesar, aren’t they showing us that they their choice is for something other than Christ?

The comment makes about as much sense as suggesting that those who voice their appreciation for the presidency of George W. Bush are in fact masking deep anti-American sentiments, because everyone knows that America was founded in opposition to the oppressive rule of another guy named George — England’s King George III.

Favorites reads of 2012

Best book I read during 2012: The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement, by Miriam Pawel  (Bloomsbury, 2010).

This book tells the story of Chavez and the United Farm Workers organization from the point of view of those who worked closest with Chavez. It offers a more nuanced view than much of the material that has long been available about Chavez and the events in which he played such a central role. The light shed on Chavez and his personality is often but not always positive. What results is an image of him that is more realistic and more human, but just as admirable, perhaps not so much in spite of but because of that fact.

Other big favorites from 2012 reading:

If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Beauty of Justice, by Maureen O’Connell (Liturgical Press, 2012)

The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology, edited by Daniel G. Groody (University of Notre Dame, 2007).

(Having been working through much of this year on finishing up my own book, Faith Meets World: The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching, most of the reading I did focused on topics related to social justice and Catholic social teaching.)

Favorite novel of 2012: Fragile, by Lisa Unger (2010)

President Obama designates Cesar Chavez’s home a national monument

President Barack Obama and Helen Chavez in Keene, Calif., Oct. 8, 2012President Barack Obama honored the memory of Cesar Chavez yesterday by designating the property at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (in Keene, California) as a national monument. La Paz was Cesar’s home from the early 1970s until his death in 1993 and the headquarters from which he directed the United Farm Workers union. It is also the site of his grave and where his widow, Helen, continues to live today.

In the photo at the right, the President and Helen Chavez lay a rose at Cesar’s gravesite.

Here’s a snippet of the comments the President offered yesterday:

Cesar cared.  And in his own peaceful, eloquent way, he made other people care, too.  A march that started in Delano with a handful of activists — (applause) — that march ended 300 miles away in Sacramento with a crowd 10,000 strong.   (Applause.)  A boycott of table grapes that began in California eventually drew 17 million supporters across the country, forcing growers to agree to some of the first farm worker contracts in history.  Where there had once been despair, Cesar gave workers a reason to hope.  “What [the growers] don’t know,” he said, “is that it’s not bananas or grapes or lettuce.  It’s people.”

It’s people.  More than higher wages or better working conditions, that was Cesar’s gift to us — a reminder that we are all God’s children, that every life has value, that, in the words of one of his heroes, Dr. King, ‘we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.’

The full text of the President’s comments are here. More resources:

  • A press release from the U.S. Department of the Interior here;
  • Commentary by Cesar’s grand-daughter, Julie Chavez Rodrigues, here;
  • My own recent article, published in the August 27, 2012, issue of America magazine (available by subscription only), here.