I want to thank my good friend Artie Rodriguez for that kind introduction and for all that he’s done for farm workers and the labor movement over the years. Artie has devoted his life to bringing dignity and respect to the lives of those who make sure that millions of Americans have food on their table.
Artie has worked in the trenches, following the great example of Cesar Chavez, to ensure decent wages and working conditions, health care and pensions for farm workers throughout the nation.
I also want to recognize my good friend Paul Chavez, who does such great work as president of the Chavez Foundation while providing health care and housing for workers through the National Farm Workers Service Centers.
And we all owe a great deal of thanks to Andres Irlando, who heads the Chavez Foundation and is working to keep alive Cesar Chavez’s memory in the hearts and minds of every American. Andres and Paul Chavez and the rest of the foundation staff are fulfilling the vision of the Chavez Center, moving ahead with new phases of construction on the center’s library, museum and education complex.
Through their efforts -- and that of loyal supporters like our luncheon chairman, Danny Ortega -- hundreds of thousands of school children learn about Cesar Chavez every year and participate in service learning projects that follow the model of Cesar’s life.
I also want to thank the foundation for recognizing my family last year with the Chavez Legacy Award. It was a great honor for the Kennedy family to receive the award, which further cements the bonds between our families.
You may be interested in knowing that my mother marched with the Immokalee tomato pickers back in Florida who just recently won a significant wage hike from the growers. So Cesar’s shining example and our family’s commitment to it continue.
We appreciate the presence here today of Gov. Janet Napolitano, a good Democrat who has reached out to all Arizonans and shown how to provide essential services without raising taxes. Her efficiency reviews have identified millions in savings to the state treasury. She is a model of how a Democrat can win in a state usually written off as entirely red.
I also want to thank Mayor Phil Gordon for his kind remarks. Mayor Gordon has done a great job devising progressive new educational policies to train the next generation in law enforcement, firefighting and biosciences, increasing job opportunities, and lowering crime in the city.
I want to thank Attorney General Terry Goddard for his joining us. As a former Phoenix mayor and the Clinton administration’s regional housing director, he has brought a practical understanding to his new job of the challenges facing ordinary working people in struggling to raise their children on safe streets, protect them from Internet predators, and  grow up breathing clean air and drinking clean water.
It’s always great to be back in Arizona, where I spent a great deal of time working with people like my good friend Lauro Garcia, who was Cesar’s dear friend, when he was fighting to keep Guadalupe within Maricopa County while saving it from highway projects that threatened his community. It’s always great to see Lauro and his wife Margarita, who will always keep Cesar’s hopes and dreams alive.
We heard earlier from Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, who is a great supporter of the farm workers and the Chavez Foundation. Her presence reminds me of how far we’ve come since those battles so long ago.
It’s important to recognize that when Cesar held his fast here in Arizona over 30 years ago, the farm workers struggled nearly alone -- with no help from the city, the state, or even the broader population.
Today, Arizona now recognizes Cesar Chavez with a state holiday. Today, the state and city’s top elected officials join us to honor Cesar.
That is a great reflection on the people of Arizona. No, the struggle isn’t over, but we’ve come very far in making sure that no one is judged by their income, occupation, skin color, or religion.
But I also want to recognize each and every one of you here for your steadfast support of the Chavez Foundation. Your contributions, whether in time, money, ideas, or energy, have helped create a living memorial to one of our greatest American heroes.
Your support in this state, in California, in Texas, and in every state where farm workers continue the struggle, not only keeps Cesar’s memory alive but gives aid and comfort to the current generation of field workers -- and working people everywhere -- who still labor under terrible and unforgiving conditions.
I know in my heart that I’m here just as you are here because of the spirit of those who went before us, the spirit of Cesar Chavez and Robert Kennedy, whose memories continue to shine upon us and inspire us to continue the fight against injustice, to continue the march towards freedom from the shackles of poverty.
Today is very special to all those who remember Cesar as one of our greatest heroes. Today we recall the struggles he fought, the heartache he endured, and the difficulties we all have faced in trying to carry out his mission over the course of these last 30 years.
There isn’t a day goes by where every person in this room doesn’t remember with great heartache and a sense of loss the passing of Cesar Chavez.
But almost more inspirational than any fast or any of the struggles he faced in his own life is the inspiration he provided to so many people to continue his fight for justice, for dignity, for workers’ rights and benefits.
There is a belief that the state of heaven is defined by the memories that you leave behind and how they shape the values and choices amongst those who live on. By that measure, Cesar is clearly in heaven, looking down upon all of you in this room and in fields across this country and in other countries throughout the world.
Wherever the poor sweat in the vineyards, wherever workers struggle in silence and hardship, wherever their families long for decent housing and health care and education, there Cesar lives.
And I’d like to think that where Cesar lives, he has a roommate, his good friend Robert Kennedy.
Like many of you, I will always remember that picture of the two of them sitting side by side -- so much of America in that moment, caught by a camera: Two citizens of our country living out the meaning of solidarity, of human connections forged for the sake of the vulnerable and the needy.
We remember how tough the fights were that they went through in the ’60s, fights that left so many leaders killed by their own struggles to help others. From Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King to John and Robert Kennedy and to Cesar Chavez -- lives all cut short because they took on the powers and principalities of their time.
But you in this room, you members of the Chavez family, you members of the Chavez Foundation, you members of the UFW, continue those struggles.
When Cesar began his fast here in Phoenix in 1972, three-quarters of farm workers earned less than the federal minimum wage.
Life expectancy for farm workers was 49 years.
Infant mortality among farm workers’ families was 125% higher than the national average.
Hundreds of thousands of children, rather than attend school, worked during the harvest season for more than 10 hours a day, in 100-degree heat, seven days a week.
Cesar started his “Fast of Love” to bring attention to a repressive antilabor law designed to break the back of the farm workers movement.
But the fast was about something much greater than a statute on the books. It was about dignity. It was about respect. It was about making America appreciate the desire we all share for better opportunities for our children.
There have been many victories, some small, some large, because of Cesar’s sacrifices and the work of colleagues like Dolores Huerta.
Here in Arizona, the repressive labor law was repealed and the first Mexican American governor elected as a result of Cesar’s organizing efforts.
Cesar’s devotion to farm workers brought their plight to the attention of the world. Legislative hearings and news stories, spurred by his sacrifices, shone a light on the dangerous working and deplorable living conditions of farm workers.
Hundreds of thousands of farm workers now have UFW representation in collective bargaining. Thousands have health care benefits, pensions, seniority rights, and job security.
Just recently, mushroom workers have won a UFW contract, along with pickers at one of California’s biggest tree fruit growers as well as strawberry workers in Monterey and Santa Cruz.
But we know that so much more remains to be done.
Undocumented immigrants work in US fields hundreds of days a year yet have little chance of becoming legal citizens and remaining with their families because of inaction on immigration reform.
Workers’ exposure to pesticides leaves them at higher risk of death from cancers of every kind.
One-half of farm workers’ families earn less than $10,000 a year, far below US poverty levels. Twelve percent of all farm workers earn less than the minimum wage. Farm workers’ wages have actually declined in real dollars over the last 10 years.
Fifty-four percent of migrant teenagers, exposed to hazardous and grueling work, drop out of school before graduation.
Infant mortality among farm workers’ children remains 125% higher than the rest of the US population and life expectancy remains stuck at 49 years -- well below the national average of 75.
Gallo continues to refuse to sign a UFW contract in spite of workers voting overwhelmingly for the union and a ruling that the winery is illegally trying to oust the UFW from its fields.
Workers like Asuncion Valdivia die of heat stroke after working 10 hours picking grapes in over 100-degree heat. And not a single grower responds to Artie’s personal appeal to take steps to better protect workers.
So the struggle for the poor is not near over.
Tragically, so much focus these days seems to be on the heartbreaking struggles of a dying woman in Florida and so little on the broader challenges facing those in need.
Isn’t it amazing that the suffering of one woman has captured the attention of the president, the press, and the Congress? Terri is dying and it is a tragedy.
But who else in our country may need docs around the clock? Where is the same compassion toward farm workers? Where is the sense of religious duty towards those who put food on our table?
When have we ever seen George Bush get up at 2:00 a.m. to help a sick farm worker or his family?
What about the thousands of people who are dying because of a lack of decent health care? Who are cold because of a lack of decent housing? Who labor at risk because of unsafe working conditions? Who are consigned to ignorance because of a lack of a good education?
What can we do? We look back to leaders like Cesar Chavez and Robert Kennedy to inspire us. Their bodies may not be with us but their love is -- along with their hopes and their determination to realize those hopes for others.
There were so many people throughout the history of our country who suffered and died trying to help others. Without any publicity. Without any attention. And in some cases without any real success. But they tried and tried and they continue to try.
So whether victory comes in one day, in one week, in one year or at the end of a particular struggle or strike, the need to stand up for what is right, the need to stand up for the poor, the elderly, the vulnerable, is still the greatest calling.
You in this room have heard and answered the call.
And that alone makes all of Cesar’s struggles, all of my father’s struggles, and all of our struggles indeed worthwhile.
Let us continue to heed Cesar’s call -- it is a call to moral service.
Dorothy Day, the Catholic activist who organized soup kitchens for the poor in our cities, marched with Cesar Chavez and volunteered to help his struggle.
She once remarked of him: “You see the hand of God in his life’s work.” At another time, she called Cesar “a gift from the Lord to America.”
Viva Chavez! Viva la causa!