Interview: UFW Reacts To Naming Of USS Cesar Chavez

on Friday, May. 20th

On Wednesday, members of Cesar Chavez’s family joined the secretary of the Navy at the General Dynamics NASSCO in the announcement of the Navy’s new vessel, the USS Cesar Chavez.  This new vessel is the 14th Lewis and Clark supply ship built by General Dynamics NASSCO, and will operate by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. The Cesar Chavez cargo ship is designated to operate independently for long periods of time, and can carry two helicopters and their crews.

Turnstyle spoke to Marc Grossman, Communications Director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, about the significance of the naming for the foundation and United Farm Workers, how the naming of the vessel came about, and the importance of continuing Chavez’s legacy.

Tunrstyle: What does the naming of the vessel mean to the foundation and UFW?

Marc Grossman: It’s an important recognition. It’s important to many different people. Cesar served in the Navy himself in the years immediately after WWII and like many Latinos and African Americans from his generation, he came home from the war determined to insure that the country whom he sacrificed –lived up to its promise. Although we very much appreciate and are grateful to the secretary of the navy, and the workers at General Dynamics NASSCO … that’s not our primary focus. The primary focus of the Chavez foundation is to continue Cesar’s legacy by improving the lives of the people who he dedicated his life to.

TS: What does the Chavez family feel about the naming of the vessel?

MG: The Chavez family and the farm worker movement are acknowledging the naming of the US and Cesar Chavez on behalf of all Latinos that helped build America and served their country. Cesar was a very humble man and he was always uncomfortable being singled out for praise. He would say they are so many Cesar Chavez, so many men and women in the movement who made sacrificed to achieve tremendous things but whose names are largely lost to history.

TS: The naming of this vessel was kept under the radar, why so?

MG: We didn’t know. We found out Friday. The company and the workers suggested that they name the ship after Cesar and the secretary agreed, and so that’s how it happened.  We’re grateful for all of them.  The company wanted to recognize and honor the workers, 60% of them are Latino at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. People in [the UFW] community [organize] to recognize [Cesar Chavez]… [a man] who never  made more than 6,000 dollars a year, never owned a home, didn’t own a car and yet, when he died at the age of 66…40,000 people showed up to march behind his casket. Cesar continues to inspire people even 18 years of his passing. We respond and express our appreciation and gratitude but the focus on the farmer’s movement is really in other places.

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