Legacy Means Leaving the Ladder for Others to Follow

04/03/2015 05:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2015

On Cesar Chavez Day, we remember the legacy of one of the most important labor leaders in our country. The son of Mexican immigrants, Chavez's parents worked hard day in and day out to provide for their family, but despite their best efforts, they could never get ahead. So when he became a prominent leader, Chavez worked to change the way business is done, so that all workers have the chance to prosper.

Cesar Chavez rose through the ranks to become one of the most well known labor leaders in the U.S. But he was not just a farm labor leader, he was a civil rights activist, a community organizer, and a social justice pioneer that sought equality at the most fundamental levels. As the founder of the United Farm Workers, Chavez amplified the voices of field workers who faced great challenges to break the cycle of poverty and powerlessness that prevented future generations from achieving more.

There is another famous man, who like Chavez, was born to immigrant parents. But for this man, his parents were able to get ahead. They also put in an honest day's work and fortunately, received an honest day's pay. They were able to give their son a better future than they had. Having lived the American dream, you would think Ted Cruz would help other immigrants prosper as his family had. But instead, Ted Cruz is lifting up the ladder behind him.

Senator Ted Cruz's success came at the cost of similar sacrifices experienced by his father, like Chavez. Having been tortured and imprisoned in Cuba, Cruz's father fled the island country to Texas and through hard work and determination, was able to provide for his family and give them an education and the opportunity he did not have growing up.

As a result, Sen. Cruz was able to reach to the highest levels of government; he is a United States Senator and is now running to be President of the United States. These are accomplishments to be proud of, but unlike Cesar Chavez, Sen. Cruz seems intent on regressing the accomplishments of those before him.

Through hurtful rhetoric and politics of fear, Sen. Cruz has managed to lift up the social equality ladder behind him and made certain it is not available for others. Take for example his positions on President Obama's expanded immigration programs. While not perfect, these initiatives honor the hard work of immigrants and help keep immigrant families together. Unfortunately, Sen. Cruz has made repealing these initiatives a top priority. He would prefer to see families ripped apart than kept together and achieve success here. And rather than try to negotiate with his colleagues and the President to find common ground, he instead holds funding hostage for agencies like Homeland Security.

Cesar Chavez believed "... it is not enough to progress as individuals while our friends and neighbors are left behind." And at Workers Defense Project, a non-profit organization that is winning good jobs for hard working Texans, we're fighting to build a future like Chavez imagined. In Texas, the deadliest state to work construction, over 70% of the construction workforce is foreign-born. Like the immigrant parents of Cesar Chavez and Ted Cruz, these men and women work hard everyday to be able to give their children a better future. But for too many, an honest day's work doesn't mean an honest day's pay- 52% of construction workers struggle to make ends meet.

Numbers like these are proof there is still significant work to be done in order to reach the future Chavez imagined. Together with hardworking Texas families, Workers Defense Project will continue to carry the torch that Cesar Chavez lit so many years ago. And while we take this time to celebrate the life of Cesar Chavez, we should also take a close look at Ted Cruz's campaign for President. We need to look further and examine those who wish to be our leaders and see who is leaving a lasting legacy with a ladder for others to follow and who is pulling up that ladder behind them.

Cristina Tzintzún is the Executive Director of Workers Defense Project (WDP), a statewide, membership-based workers' rights organization that is winning better working conditions for Texans.