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Cesar Chavez was flying out of San Jose airport in 1979, amidst bitter farm worker strikes in the nearby Salinas Valley. A middle-aged Anglo woman recognized him and said, “Why don’t you go back to Mexico?” Cesar was born near Yuma, Arizona on a small family farm his grandfather homesteaded at the turn of the century. His grandfather cut and hauled wood in mule-team drawn wagons that built the mines and railroads, the backbone of Arizona’s pre-state economy. Cesar’s dad drove a Wells Fargo Stagecoach. His uncle witnessed the fabled Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone in 1881. The Chavez family literally helped build the Old West in the late 19th Century.

As a native of San Antonio, Texas, I thought about Cesar after 11-year old Sebastian De La Cruz belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner” in a booming voice while wearing a Mariachi uniform before the NBA finals game in San Antonio on Wednesday, June 12. His mother later said her son sang the anthem “in a voice filled with American pride.”

He received enthusiastic applause from the crowd at AT&T Center in San Antonio. But right-wing social media erupted in a cascade of racial bigotry and ignorance. “How you singing the national anthem looking like an illegal immigrant,” one person Tweeted in fractured English. “Why is a foreigner singing the national anthem?” another asked. Other comments were too vile to be repeated here.

Cesar ignored the woman’s prejudice, as was his way. Sebastian responded to the bigotry with grace and pride in being an American. God bless Sebastian and the future of America that he represents.

Arturo S. Rodriguez, President
United Farm Workers of America  

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