Women often work behind the scenes to help distinguished men and women achieve greatness. To end Women’s History Month which also coincides with Cesar Chavez Day, we highlight Helen Chavez, the wife of the labor and civil rights icon. Devoting most of her life to supporting her husband, she quietly worked to improve the lives of migrant farm workers, becoming a strong female role model for women, including her granddaughter Christine Chavez.
Helen plays an important role in the just released film Cesar Chavez. In reality, she helped her husband and friend Dolores Huerta organize the National Farm Workers Association which is now the United Farm Workers of America. In order to support her family while Chavez and Huerta organized migrant farm workers, Helen returned to the agricultural fields of Delano, California. Helen accepted Cesar's posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton. Today, she continues to inspire her family as the matriarch, including one granddaughter.
Christine Chavez continues her family’s legacy of working to protect the rights of farm workers and the larger immigrant community. Christine currently works at the United States Department of Agriculture and previously helped farmers at the United Farm Workers. In this Q & A, this activist shares with me her advice as a female role model.
Inspiring Q & A with Christine Chavez, granddaughter of Helen & Cesar Chavez
The Wise Latina Club’s Haley: Why is it important to have female role models in your life? (edited for space)
Christina Chavez: In my life women have been the heads of households, leaders in my community and the movers and shakers of social movements. Female mentorship has been crucial to my development as a leader and a woman. We see ourselves in female role models. We need people who are in positions of power that look like us. Women's insights are extremely valuable and elevating women as role models is crucial not only for women but also men. Women establish the blueprint for how we will shape our families, communities, and selves.
The Wise Latina Club’s Haley: What characteristics make for an effective female role model?
Christine Chavez: For me I look at women who have not only success professionally but also have been able to successfully maintain relationships and inspire others. Humans are multi-faceted individuals. Women who bring a variety of characteristics can be effective. Personally, I believe women who are self-aware, socially conscious, health conscious, determined, and assertive are most effective because they tend to take a holistic and balanced approach to life and they lead through example. A woman with a purpose and a belief in mentorship can make true impact as a role model.
The Wise Latina Club’s Haley: What advice has your grandmother shared with you that influenced you professionally?
Christine Chavez: She has always told us never be afraid to speak up and know that you can change your mind about anything at anytime.
The Wise Latina Club’s Haley: Do you see yourself as a role model and to whom? At what stage are they in career and life?
Christine Chavez: Coming from a large family and a family of activists, I know that I represent something larger than myself. I know that many people look to our family as an example of leadership and perseverance. Coming from such a family, those values and ideals were ingrained and I try my best to manifest them myself. I know that we are all role models and I do my best to be a positive role model to younger generations and my peers. Currently, two young ladies I have been working with have claimed me as their mentor. Both are young Latina professionals and activists navigating life in D.C. as the first in their families to obtain [college] degrees.
The Wise Latina Club’s Haley: What advice would you share for women who want to make a positive change in their communities?
Christine Chavez: Act! It's simple, just make a decision to take action--look within their own communities and see what type of change needs to be made. Get others to strategize and work together.
We do not put enough emphasis on the need for female role models. Restricted by gender stereotypes, women frequently are overlooked in the professional world. Following in the footsteps of accomplished women is crucial for relationship and professional success.
4 Characteristics of a Female Role Model
According to a popular adage, behind every great man is a great woman. We end Women's History Month which coincides with Cesar Chavez Day by focusing our attention on a great woman such as Helen Chavez who was as instrumental in improving working conditions for farmworkers as her husband. As important, we highlight the contributions of women and role models today who continue to fight for equal rights and greater representation for all such as Christine Chavez.
A food enthusiast and native Georgia Peach, Haley recently graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelors of Science in Sustainable Development. Currently interning in the office of Congressman Sanford Bishop, she is passionate about the outdoors, improved access to quality education for all, public policy, and documenting “from stress to success in the city.” Click here to read more about and connect with Haley.
Edited by Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.
Who are women in your life you admire?