There are people who touch the lives of others in real and unique ways and no one knows it. These ‘angels on earth’ do big and small things everyday on behalf of their fellow man in quiet, unassuming ways. Most of their work goes unnoticed — but their impact is felt by countless people, sometimes for generations. When they leave this world, we mourn our loss and pray that someone else picks up their cause, fills the tremendous gap their passing leaves, and carries on their work.
Richard Estrada Chavez was one of those angels. He was a designer and builder — not just of the iconic United Farm Workers’ logo, or homes for farm workers — but of a movement that has bettered the lives of vulnerable people for nearly half a century.
Alongside his older brother, Cesar Chavez, and his life partner Dolores Huerta, he played a significant role in building the United Farm Workers and designing effective, community-based strategies that changed perceptions, laws, cultures and lives. For decades, the three of them were a force for positive change, making a difference for those laboring in the fields of Fresno, Calif., or the factories in Detroit, Mich.
As a child, he worked as a migrant farm laborer during the Great Depression, and later became a union carpenter. He put both experiences to work to help create the farm workers’ union. His record of achievement and lists of accomplishments are remarkable. He headed the Martin Luther King Jr. Farm Worker Fund at the UFW, which provided health care for farm workers. He built and led the National Farm Workers Service Center, a first-of-its-kind effort to ensure that farm workers had affordable housing. And he had the vision to use new ways of communicating to farm workers all over the country by helping to create Radio Campesina, a Spanish-language radio network. Still active and advocating in his retirement, he helped create and served on the board of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, named to honor and continue the work of the love of his life.
As the nation’s labor secretary, I see every day the benefits of his work, as well as the continuing need for it.
He was a quiet hero and his legacy will be his passion for justice. Our nation is fortunate that his legacy will live on through the lives he touched. My thoughts and prayers are of course with my dear friend and mentor, Dolores Huerta, as well as the entire Chavez family. They too are part of the marvelous legacy of this special angel.