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Saturday, November 17, 2007

2nd teachable moment in Portland: Cesar Chavez and "el cortito"

Completely absent amid all of the overheated rhetoric in the present “discussion” about renaming Interstate or Fourth Avenue or whatever to “honor” Cesar Chavez is any trace of understanding of either who the man was or what the man accomplished.

If I hear one more summation of the man and his achievements that is built around the word "grapes", I may lose my patience, get upset, start....

People are either trying to find ways to claim authority for “honoring” a man they can't find time to describe accurately, or they are locked into intense and entirely appropriate—given the circumstances of this entire (I don’t want to put the word I’m thinking about in here)—turf battles that have sucked in entire neighborhoods, or they are responding to some political need or pressure….

It is like seeing this giant tower of a human being reduced to a symbol of a symbol, far removed from even an approximation of who Cesar Chavez really was.

Many are just trying to do their jobs amid a near total collapse of the Social Contract and reasoned discourse.

For some, the victory signals unwelcome closure, but ”the Struggle” is hot-blooded intoxication….

Some are not going to like hearing this from me, but the way I see it, four years into the war in Iraq, the beauty of this particular “civil rights struggle” is that no one has to dodge any bullets or IEDs to engage in it.

There is no need to worry about the loss of family (or someone else’s familia), no Traumatic Brain Injury exposure, no personal risk or expense is involved in this fight at all.

This issue has managed to push the war in Iraq clear off the front page for days, and I’m not happy about that, either.

Here I am, digressing again…back to the topic of today’s Teachable Moment:

El Cortito (the short one)

Please read on....

The Death of the Short-Handled Hoe

By Susan Ferris and Ricardo Sandoval

In early 1968, California Rural Legal Assistance lawyer Maurice “Mo” Jourdane was shooting pool in a smoky cantina in Soledad, California, when a small band of farmworkers approached him, a couple of them walking with a rigid gait that spoke of constant pain.

The men stopped to talk with Henry Cantu and Hector de la Rosa, Jourdane’s billiards partners, who were outreach workers with CRLA.

Cantu then translated a simple challenge from the workers to Jourdane: “If you really want to help the campesino, get rid of el cortito — the short-handled hoe.”

El Cortito, “the short one,” was a hoe that was only twenty-four inches long, forcing the farmworkers who used it to bend and stoop all day long—a position that often led to lifelong, debilitating back injuries.

The pool-room meeting with a handful of its victims led Jourdane to try working in nearby fields for two days.

Within weeks of experiencing firsthand the pain eI cortito caused, he and other CRLA attorneys began a seven-year battle to outlaw the most insidious tool ever used by California agriculture.

For Cesar Chavez, who played a pivotal role in the long drama, there were few greater moments than when el cortito was finally banished from California’s fields in 1975.

In his youth, Chavez knew the hoe well, having used it to thin countless rows of lettuce and to weed sugar-beet fields along the Sacramento River.

Later he would say he never looked at a head of lettuce in a market without thinking of how laborers had suffered for it from seed to harvest….

Follow the links:

The Struggle for the Health and Legal Protection of Farm Workers:
el cortito


California to Ban Practice of Forcing Farm Workers to Weed by Hand From:THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER


Stoop Labor in Salinas, California


Tribute to the creator of the short hoe memorialized (welcome to the Twilight Zone)

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