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Robert Kennedy and Cesar’s Fast

Written & Narrated by Gerardo Vazquez




March 10th, 1968. I was 11 years old. My father Alfredo was taking my mom, a couple of my sisters, me and my little brother to join Cesar at Memorial Park in Delano. When we arrived, there were a lot of people. I got used to the idea my father was involved in something huge and very very special. It was a beautiful day, it was not cold or wet. People were happy and you felt something very strong in the air. A unity amongst everyone. It kind of felt like Easter Sunday but magnified. Everybody passing had smiles on their faces. Everyone walking, headed the same direction it the park. There was what seemed to be a restrained anticipation all around.

     I was told that there was going to be a mass. Now that’s something I could understand. We always went to church. I was even an altar boy. Then people started screaming, “Kennedy! Viva Kennedy!” Wow!, Senator Robert Kennedy was in the park, the brother of John F. Kennedy, the late President of the United States. Wow, he was coming to be with Cesar today as he broke his fast during the mass.

     The cheering started getting closer. I stood up on the concrete base of a park lamppost and saw a crowd making its way in my direction. They reached out touching and shaking hands with this white guy saying, “Viva Kennedy, Viva Kennedy.” It reminded me of an old black and white movie I had seen where Jesus came into town on a donkey with people swarming, putting palm branches before him to walk on. There were no palm branches here, but people reacted out about the same as in the movie trying to touch him. I was standing next to my mother when Robert Kennedy passed right in front of us not more than five feet away. The crowd was pushing as it bunched up and moved along with him. It was exciting! I stepped forward into the current and allowed myself to get swept along for 20-30 feet as Kennedy walked with the crowd.

     They sat Robert Kennedy next to Cesar and the Priest began the mass. Cesar looked very weak and tired as he sat there. His head drooped like he didn’t have the straight to hold it up.  Mr. Kennedy with a worried look on his face kept gazing at Cesar . He appeared to be concerned for Cesar’s health. But that was not all of it. This grand United States Senator sat next to this poor farm worker in awe. This small framed man who’s sacrifice to the farm worker struggle was not only undeniable, it was spiritual. Mr. Kennedy appeared humbled by Cesar’s devotion to struggle, and by the farm worker’s devotion to Cesar. On this day, Robert Kennedy may have felt he was sitting next to a giant; a giant in a small brown body.

     Farm workers had been praying for Cesar’s heath, and for La Causa. In the park under the sun, Robert Kennedy and Cesar both took communion and the fast was over. There was singing and prayer and clapping. It felt really good to be with all of these people. There was something very strong, a feeling that reached way down inside, a feeling of truth, of purity, of dedication and determination. There was a lot of love. These were feelings I again and again would experience as I learned about and lived within this movement. I watched my father in unity amongst all the farm workers here today in this park. With-out completely understanding I could feel why it was so important, and why my father had to be away from us so much working with the Union helping to unite farm workers. I felt proud.

     Starting to come into focus was the multitude of hope people had. A belief that farm workers united could stand up and their voices and concerns would be heard. That they were going to make a difference in what they and their children were going to have as a future. The Union would have a poster made inspired by one of the marches showing a long line of people holding flags being led by a banner of The Virgen De Guadalupe. On this poster there would be a quote by Victor Hugo, “Nothing can withstand the force of an idea whose time has come.” All the people in the park today. Thousands of poor people, people who looked just like me, in our hearts, we knew that this was our time! We would not be stopped!

     After the mass was over Kennedy got up and spoke. The people cheered and started chanting, “Kennedy for President!, Kennedy for President!” As he walked leaving  the park, all the way to his car, people cheered, “Kennedy for President! Kennedy for President!”

     As the crowd broke up leaving the park I sat on the grass with my father close to where the mass had been held. He was meeting with a few of the leadership and staff talking about how the event turned out. One young white staff guy walked up to the meeting a little after it started. I had seen this guy at some of the other staff meetings my father had attended. He looked like he wanted to say something, he couldn’t contain himself, he kept fidgeting. He sat next to me and said, “I was in the car that took Kennedy to the airport. From inside the car Mr. Kennedy and I listened to the chants of campesinos saying “Kennedy for President” as we drove out of the park. I could tell Bobby was really being moved by all the voices outside his window, and all the support he received here in the park.” I was surprised how this young staffer was now calling the senator by is nick name. The staffer went on to say,  “Then, Bobby took a deep breath, and kinda to himself said, “Maybe I will run for President.” I remember the expression this young staffer had on his face, it was glazed over when he told me what he had just gone through. He rubbed his arms like he had goose bumps on them. He continued and said, “I think I just experienced first-hand a moment in time that could change history!” He believed that this was when Robert Kennedy made the decision to enter the race for the Presidency of the United States. Six days later Mr. Kennedy (Bobby) officially announced his candidacy to the rest of the world.

     After the meeting as I walked to our car there were still plenty of people in the park, They looked like they were glowing. There was an energy everywhere. It was coming from inside people. Because of Cesar, the fast, and Robert Kennedy there was a very deep, very real feeling of hope. This hope was now part of poor people’s lives. A hunger inside of us had been fed. We as a united people believed we had a voice. And indeed we did. I left the park with an  incredibly feeling. That day was pretty cool. My heart was full.

Gerardo D. Vázquez


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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