One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is of July 4, 1966, when a group of people gathered in the plaza of Rio Grande City, Texas, to begin a 400-mile march to the State Capitol in Austin to advocate for a fair wage of $1.25 an hour for the migrant farm workers toiling in the fields of Texas.
My father, a labor leader named Henry "The Fox" Muñoz and my mother Elida, herself a respected civil rights advocate, made sure that my sisters, my brother and I were at the front of this demonstration for equality and justice.
For the next two months, every weekend we would drive in our old station wagon to wherever that march was, and begin the walk all over again. I was the youngest marcher, so I got to ride a burro who was named Donkey 1.25 as a tribute to our fight for a fair wage. Today, almost fifty years later, If I close my eyes I can still smell that donkey, feel the heat of the South Texas sun on my skin, hear the sounds of the voices singing "De Colores," and see the two oldest members of the march carrying the United States flag and the "tilma" of the Virgen de Guadalupe -- very powerful images of patriotism and faith side by side.
I could not have known then how that walk would shape the journey of my life and the lives of so many others. I knew even then that everyday citizens were challenging the government to do what was right and using their voices to speak for our community. They were speaking the truth to power and demanding that Governor John Connally meet with them and convene the legislature to consider a reasonable minimum wage for a long day's work.
As an activist, as a founder of the scholarship initiative called TheDREAM.US and as the Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee, I try every day to continue the work that those marchers started generations ago and to honor their legacy.
So many times, I have found myself remembering that summer and the precious inheritance of change and justice left by those workers whose names I cannot remember but whose faces I will never forget. Governor Conally never did meet those marchers or call a session of the legislature on their behalf, but there would be at the end of that 400-mile journey a victory of the human spirit and ultimately, a new minimum wage.
My father used to tell me that the movement of a people begins with the steps of just one person. At this moment in our country's history when economic equality, access to education, LGBT rights, equal pay, citizenship and the American Dream continue to dominate the national conversation, it is more important than ever to remember the lessons that the previous generations have taught us.
Cesar Chavez taught us the importance of treating every person with dignity and respect, and that the power of positive change lies in the everyday people that are willing to fight to make it happen. The celebration of Cesar Chavez reminds us that we are the change that we have been waiting for, and that this is our moment. There is a leader within each of us, and we must embrace and recognize the common everyday heroes that are fighting to make this happen.
Today, I realize that a march lasts more than one lifetime and a movement of people may be digital instead of physical, but the lessons of organizing, leadership, social justice and equality left to us by Cesar Chavez are just as important as they were on that 4th of July in 1966.
As we celebrate Cesar Chavez Day, we need to recognize that the fight for equality in our country is still ongoing. This is a celebration not just of Cesar Chavez's leadership, but of the thousands of people that walked, worked and fought alongside him -- of every worker who keeps our country moving forward.
Let us continue to fight for an increase in the minimum wage, for a path to citizenship for 11 million people who are living in the shadows, for equality regardless of gender, race or sexuality, for expanding economic opportunity for all Americans, and for every citizen to have a voice and a vote within our political system. Let's do this to honor the generations that came before us and to leave a better country for those that will follow.
Si se puede! Yes we can and we must.