Cesar Chavez’ San Jose home to become community center
July 27, 2022
The family home of one of San Jose’s greatest activists will be transformed into a community center, continuing his work for future generations.
The Amigos de Guadalupe association, with the help of the city, bought Cesar Chavez’s family home this week. The historic monument at 53 Scharff Ave. in East San Jose has been owned by the Chavez family for decades. Now, with the blessing of the family, it becomes a space for education, historic preservation and housing for young adults.
It couldn’t be more perfect, say East San Jose executives. Chavez began his advocacy in San Jose through a grassroots organization in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, much like Amigos de Guadalupe, which over the past decade has grown its nonprofit organization out of the parish of St. E. San Antonio.
Chavez was a labor leader and civil rights activist who led strikes and protests in nearby orchards in Salinas and Delano. He helped co-found the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later became known as the United Farm Workers.
“He started in the community service organization, working with people, going one-on-one to find out what the needs of the community are,” Darlene Tenes, founder of the Farmworker Caravan, told San José Spotlight. “Amigos de Guadalupe does the same thing.”
She said the Community Service Organization (CSO) and Amigos de Guadalupe are social justice groups with the same mission to alleviate the community’s most pressing issues. For the CSO, it looked like voter registration drives and providing services that the county would not provide.
Amigos de Guadalupe representatives say the group envisions the home as a space to strategize and advocate for urgent needs such as permanent and affordable housing, displacement prevention and opportunities for young people.
Fernando Zazueta, co-founder of La Raza Historical Society of the Santa Clara Valley, said transforming the family home into a space for community empowerment is a great way to honor Chavez’s legacy.
“He learned how to organize farm workers here in San Jose,” Zazueta told San Jose Spotlight. “It makes sense that this type of work is kept alive at home.”
Zazueta grew up in East San Jose like Chavez. He was a migrant child working on a farm who traveled around California with his family, changing schools 16 times to follow the seasons. Chavez also traveled the state as a farmhand, and like Zazueta, it was in San Jose that Chavez learned the skills necessary to raise awareness for the plight of farmworkers.
Life in East San Jose
Chavez lived in the area of Mayfair formerly known as “Sal Si Puedes”, meaning “get out if you can”. Chavez and his wife, Helen, raised their family in this home from 1951 to 1953 while he worked in a nearby apricot orchard and organized with the CSO. His East San Jose home hosted organizational meetings and social justice conferences. One of his first grape boycotts took place where the Mexican Heritage Plaza stands today.
“He was a guy who wanted to improve the lot of farm workers, so I guess he would approve of using this house for that purpose,” said Zazueta, who is close friends with many former CSO organizers. “To enlighten the community and help it become more involved, more productive and more assimilated into our society.”
Former Vice Mayor of San José Blanca Alvarado, the first Latina elected to city council, worked with Chavez on the CSO before beginning her political career. She said the Chavez family home “couldn’t get any better.”
“Cesar Chavez’s legacy is unmistakable. He started the movement to improve the lives of farmworkers. But beyond that, he showed us how to work in movements for social change,” Alvarado told San Jose Spotlight. “That legacy includes his presence as a movement starter here in Santa Clara County on the East Side. We, as pioneers in East San Jose, were the builders of our own institutions.”
She said that, like the CSO, her advocacy to establish the Mexican Heritage Plaza during her time on the board, and the work of nonprofits like Amigos de Guadalupe, are examples of the community stepping up and demanding better to their neighborhoods that have been institutionally disenfranchised and ignored. .
“We didn’t wait for the authorities to create or create institutions where we could lead the charge,” Alvarado said. “These are efforts that grew out of our unanimity with the farmworker movement. That’s the legacy.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Tran Nguyen contributed reporting for this story.
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