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In the 1960s, members of La Causa movement in California were led by Cesar Chavez in boycotting harvesting of grapes. Similarly, South Texas’ melon pickers held a strike in opposition of unfair wages and labor practices from the melon growers. In his book “Farm Workers and the Churches”, Alan J. Watt illustrates how the social and religious contexts of farm workers together with their leaders and the society at large promoted or hindered the occurrence of these actions. Watt gives more light in the ways through which liberal ideologies of Northern Protestantism were relocated to California and joined forces with one wing of the Catholic church which supported the labor issues together with the support and heritage of the popular piety of Mexico provided an ideal ground for the growth and development of a huge support of the charismatic Chavez and his efforts. In the end the La Causa movement emerged victorious and even led to the signing of a contract between farm workers and California agribusiness.
In 1966, when the boycott and the great strike was in its seventh month, it was important that the group had greater visibility because this was a very crucial time. The union also needed an addition of members to give it the necessary strength and support (Watt 2). Chavez and some members of the group proposed for a civil rights march but this march was to have some cultural twist in it. The group decided to write and circulate a one page paper which they titled “Peregrinacio, penitencia, revolucion.”(Watt 2). This paper contained a new meaning to the upcoming march: it was a Lenten penitential parade, a Mexican religious pilgrimage and also an act of defiance. This march would give the participants an opportunity to commemorate their spiritual customs and heritage. However, the elements at which the protest was about were very clear. It showed the demand by Chicana for “justice, freedom, and respect from a predominantly foreign cultural community in a land where he was first.”(Watt 2).
With the creative use of religion together with the nationalist symbol that is associated with Mexican devotional Catholicism, Chevez managed to accomplish his intension. Judging from this experience, it is evident that religion played a big role in uniting the people of California. This is so because the march was very successful. The workers association managed to recruit very many people just like they wished. Moreover the supporters of the movement gained so much coverage especially in the news just like they wanted. This an indication that religion was a great source of identity. Without the use of religion, there is a high possibility that the march would not have been successful as it was (Watt 3).
Protestant missionaries were sent to California in the early 19th century to minister to the men and women who had migrated to the gold field to look for greener pastures. These missionaries were mainly from Midwest and East region especially Northern Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Northern Methodists (Watt 26). Considering that these missionaries had inherited very strong political and theological traditions, they considered religion as a very instrumental force in the society. By the time the 19th century was coming to an end, they also strongly believed in ecumenical movement. Cultural religion was therefore a very instrumental tool of ethnic identity. Religion and culture were therefore inseparable. For instance in the 1930s there was the Association of Catholic Trade Unionist where followers were taught courses were taught in the in the seminary. This kind of church for labor support was however full developed by Cesar Chavez who received the mantle from a local Irish American priest.
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The role of Mexican devotional Catholicism should not be overlooked. This also played a very big role in decision making especially for the Mexicans in California. This branch of the popular Catholicism group originates from Christianity that came before the Reformation and the Reconquesta process that brought about the Spanish character. This has some close ties with the histories of African, Amerindian and mestizo people of Mesoamerica. In most of the times, people associate the Latino’s Catholicism with traditions like home alters and some symbols like exaggerated crucifix, there is more to it that the mere collection of devotions and ritual. Religion has so much play in terms of how people think act or relate. For instance, individual of the same religion could come together for a common course because of their common spiritual bonding and thinking (Watt 30).
As Watt (2010) puts it, Latino popular Catholicism might have been used to control social realities among the followers. Moreover, it could be used to justify the occurrence of some events that might be dangerous or difficult to believe under normal circumstance. In short religion could be used as a form of interaction between a certain group of people. This is to say that people with similar religious beliefs are most likely to think alike. For instance, Mexican devotional Catholicism was used as one of the tools of interaction of the beliefs of people who felt oppressed by the society with pre-Tridentine Christianity. Some of these people include the Mexicans and Amerindians. This is the kind of belief that most lay persons living in the rural settings have created and they cannot be convinced otherwise (Watt 32).
It is the same kind of belief that Chevez took advantage of to lure a huge number of people to come out in large numbers and support the march against oppression of grape harvesters. The business of the church is supposed to be of a divine nature where it units people and shows the right path to follow (Watt 17). The leaders of the church like Bishops and priest are supposed to interact and show the right direction to their followers. This is to say that in most of the times, followers will go by what their leaders tell them. As a matter of fact church leaders link their followers to God and whatever they say is believed to have come from God. This is the reason as to why most of the Mexican Americans followed what their leaders told them.
Religion and culture had a very great influence in the identity of various groups. It also determined the kind of governance the ethnic group believed in. for instance the Filipino tribes depended on a kinship kind of leadership for governance and customs. This therefore meant that leadership was passed down from say a father to his son and so on. It was upon these leaders to show the rest of the group what was to be done. To some extend you could blame the kind of suffering farmers went through to their leadership and ignorance. As a human being it is important that everyone think critically before engaging in a certain activity. One should not just follow an idea because another person has said so. The biggest problem with the farmers was that they underwent so much suffering but still remained loyal to their leaders without much questioning. Religion shaped the spirituality of the indigenous people in California and they could not understand any other way of doing things apart from what their religion tells them to do (Watt 31).
In as much as religion was helpful to the farmers, it was also their main cause of suffering because they could not think out side the religion doctrine. For the farmers to take part in anything, their Bishops and priest had to show them the way first. Although it Is not bad to be religious, you should not accept so much suffering because you believe the religion states for. According to some religious beliefs, especially for people living in the rural settings, believers have to undergo through pain and suffering before they attain righteousness.
Farm workers struggles and suffering could also be blamed on ignorance, corruption and political ambition. The grape harvester’s worked very hard in the farms to ensure that the owners gained enough harvest. Under normal circumstance, they should also be paid well for the good job they do. However, this was not the case. They received very low wages but still continued working on the farms. It was until the intervention of Chevez that the church approved the protest and later led to the farm workers to stop working on the farms until something was done. If it were not for the intervention of Chevez, the farmers would still remain working in the farms and continue to receive peanut pay for their hard work (Watt 67).
In as much as religion could be used for better coexistence among people, it should not be a excuse for people for suffer. Just like Chevez did, religion could also be used by people to help fight for their rights. This is one area where the church leaders like priest and bishops failed their followers. Regardless of the meetings they held, they did not manage to come up with a better solution to their servants’ problems (Watt 68). It was until the intervention of Chevez that they agreed on the march in solidarity with farm workers. Most of the Mexican American’s still praise Chevez to this day fro having saved them from their struggles. For instance, in 1966 there was a protest march engineered by Chevez. This march made its way to Austin, the capitol of the state. It was led by a Baptist minister and a Catholic priest, all from the Mexican American tribe. This march went all the way to their destination which was the Labor Day.
The competition over profit and property within the western part of the US is related to the competition over cultural dominance. As the above discussion illustrates, this began way back. The struggle over culture, language and religion was also part of the conquest. The most important issue that could be noted in the discussion is the fact that the legality in property went far beyond the search for the legality in the way people lived. All in all, Chevek made a very huge contribution to California through his cleaver way of using religious backing.