June 20 • 03:47 PM

Honoring a man of honor

April 09, 2008
Editor's note: The following guest column was written by John Olivo.

Olivo, a 1955 graduate of Imlay City High School and former Marine, is active as a reading mentor and with English as a second language classes. He is also a member of the Imlay City Band Boosters. Olivo, who now resides in Lapeer, is retired from a successful career in the automotive industry. With roots in farm work, Olivo recently attended the Cesar Chavez March at the University of Michigan Flint campus sponsored by the Hispanic/Latino Collaborative.

The introduction to this story was written by Sixto Olivo, my older brother. Sixto lived in Imlay City and attended high school there and would have graduated with the class of 1952. He was 17 years old when out of hopelessness and desperation he convinced our mother she should sign for him so that he could enlist in the United States Army. He enlisted in 1951 and served until 1954. Upon his honorable discharge from the Army, Sixto retuned to school and earned his GED and later an Associates Degree from Mott Community College. Sixto worked in the skilled trades group for General Motors in Flint. He is now retired and resides in Burton.

In 1989 Cesar Chavez was asked to come to Michigan and speak at various colleges related to his quest for justice for farm workers and as an advocate for peace in the mold of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Ghandi. I was honored to house Chavez for the three days he and his entourage were to be in the Thumb area.

The significance of his visit, to me, was getting to know the man versus the legend. As most of us know, he was known as the "common man, nothing more and nothing less," as he reiterated one morning over coffee with me and the others. His immediate goal was to address the "dehumanizing" nature of the working conditions of the farm workers of America. Much has been done since the '30s and '40s to improve the working conditions of farm workers. Chavez felt that he was on a "deeply spiritual" journey and had visions of how things should be for the farm workers and would dedicate his life to continue making improvements for the farm workers.

Cesar Chavez (center) with Sixto Olivo and Olivo’s daughter in 1989.

He was a true humanist and pacifist who spoke of missing his family while he traveled the country struggling to make positive changes for others. He told me he had a common, ordinary dog that he named "Boycott." Boycott jumped out of his pickup truck one day during a security scare and disappeared from view. His narrative of the incident is paraphrased. "I had a vision of where the dog was out in the desert and guided by this vision I traveled to a spot in the desert and found him." Our conversations were too extensive to write in a short form, but suffice it to say Chavez was truly a common but a great humanistic man.

Now for my perspective. Having lived in the late '30s and '40s and on as a field worker, I personally know the seemingly hopelessness of effort and the physically exhausting regimen of human endurance as field workers carve out a living. That is why I wanted to attend the Cesar Chavez March.

The brilliantly sunny day was perfect for a march in downtown Flint. The Flint police, in their freshly washed police cars, provided traffic security and the volunteer march organizers kept a close watch on the marchers. While the number of marchers was disappointingly low, the spirit of the marchers was high. A Mariachi band accompanied the marchers and kept us singing traditional folk songs. There was no doubt in anyone's mind the reason and the purpose for the march. The usual mixture of American and Mexican flags waved in the brisk wind while young people held up homemade signs honoring the memory of Cesar Chavez.

After the march, participants were invited inside the Harding Mott University Center for the usual awards presentations and speeches. The keynote speaker, Baldemer Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, described the harsh reactions Chavez received at the onset

of his work, which continued even until the time of his death. Velasquez described in vivid and painful detail the terrible injustice he and his family went through as farm workers. He told of an incident that he and his family experienced that paralleled an incident that is still set in my memory even after 55 years.

I was in my early teens and working for a muck farmer on Van Dyke Road. Her nickname was Baba and she agreed to pay me 75 cents an hour. Five days and 50 work hours later I approached her for my pay. She didn't look at me but simply told me I had not worked hard enough and she'd only pay me 25 cents an hour. So my whopping $37.50 for 50 hours of field work shrunk to $12.50. I had no recourse or anyone to turn to for help. I took the money and chalked it up to experience.

The Cesar Chavez March was designed to honor a man who literally used up his life helping others. His attempts were generally poorly funded and poorly received by those Chavez approached for help, but that didn't stop him from continuing to try.

"We the people..." is a preamble which the meaning of is not always recognized by all Americans.

Castle Creek
06 - 20 - 19
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