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US Navy Names Ship After Cesar Chavez, Controversy Ensues

A Cesar Chavez poster by the US Department of Labor to mark Cesar Chavez Day.
Photo by US Department of Labor
A Cesar Chavez poster by the US Department of Labor to mark Cesar Chavez Day.

Mexican-American civil rights leader Cesar Chavez may not get much appreciation from Texas political leaders, but the US Navy has chosen to honor Chavez by naming a cargo ship after him.

"Cesar Chavez inspired young Americans to do what is right and what is necessary to protect our freedoms and our country," said [Secretary of the Navy Ray] Mabus. "The Cesar Chavez will sail hundreds of thousands of miles and will bring support and assistance to thousands upon thousands of people. His example will live on in this great ship."

Before Chavez formed the United Farm Workers of America in the 1960s, he served in the Navy for two years.  Some conservatives have challenged his legacy, likening his labor activism to socialism.

A bill filed by an Odessa lawmaker this state legislative session seeks to abolish the optional state holiday Cesar Chavez Day in March, and replace it with a Texas Hispanic Heritage Day in September. People who had protested with Cesar Chavez returned to the streets in March to protest House Bill 505.

In 2009, the State Board of Education considered a recommendation to remove Chavez from a portion of the social studies curriculum. Conservative board members cited his “socialist” tendencies in questioning whether he should be included in a lesson on citizenship.

The Navy’s decision to name a ship after Chavez is drawing fire from some conservatives.  California Congressman Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran, issued a statement accusing the Navy of “making a political statement.”

If this decision were about recognizing the Hispanic community’s contribution to our nation, many other names come to mind, including Marine Corps Sergeant Rafael Peralta, who was nominated for the Medal of Honor for action in Iraq.  Peralta is one of many Hispanic war heroes—some of whom are worthy of the same recognition. 

César Chávez Foundation spokesman Marc Grossman told Fox News Latino that Chavez would have been humbled by the designation.

"He was always uncomfortable being singled out for praise because he knew there were many César Chávezes — farmworkers who made great sacrifices and accomplished great things but who were unknown," he said. "So the Chávez family today acknowledges this honor in the name of all Latinos who have built this country and served this country in the armed services."

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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