The family home of one of San Jose’s greatest activists will be transformed into a community center, continuing his work for future generations.
Nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe, with the city’s help, purchased the the family home of Cesar Chavez this week. The historical landmark at 53 Scharff Ave. in East San Jose has been in the Chavez family for decades. Now, with the family’s blessing, it’s becoming a space for education, historic preservation and housing for young adults.
It couldn’t be more perfect, East San Jose leaders say. Chavez started his advocacy in San Jose through a grassroots organization in Our Lady de Guadalupe Church, just like Amigos de Guadalupe, which during the past decade grew its nonprofit out of the parish on E. San Antonio Street.
Chavez was a labor leader and civil rights activist who led strikes and protests throughout nearby orchards in Salinas and Delano. He helped co-found the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later became known as United Farm Workers.
“He started in the Community Service Organization, which was working with the people, doing one-on-ones to find out what the needs of the community are,” Darlene Tenes, founder of the Farmworker Caravan, told San José Spotlight. “Amigos de Guadalupe does the same thing.”
She said both the Community Service Organization (CSO) and Amigos de Guadalupe are social justice groups with the same mission to alleviate the community’s most pressing problems. For the CSO, that looked like voter registration drives and providing services the county wouldn’t.
Amigos de Guadalupe representatives say the group envisions the home as a space to strategize and advocate for pressing needs like permanent, affordable housing, displacement prevention and opportunities for youth.
Fernando Zazueta, co-founder of La Raza Historical Society of Santa Clara Valley, said turning the family home into a space for community empowerment is a great way to honor Chavez’s legacy.
“He learned how to organize farmworkers here in San Jose,” Zazueta told San José Spotlight. “It makes sense that this type of work is kept alive at his house.”
Zazueta grew up in East San Jose like Chavez. He was a migrant farm-working child who hopped around California with his family, switching schools 16 times to follow the seasons. Chavez also traveled around the state as a farmworker, and like Zazueta, it was in San Jose where Chavez learned the skills to raise awareness of the plight of farmworkers.
Life in East San Jose
Chavez lived in the Mayfair neighborhood formerly known as “Sal Si Puedes,” meaning “get out if you can.” Chavez and his wife, Helen, raised their family in that home from 1951 to 1953 while he worked at a nearby apricot orchard and organized with the CSO. His East San Jose home hosted organizing meetings and social justice lectures. One of his first grape boycotts was held where the Mexican Heritage Plaza stands today.
“He was a guy who wanted to better the lot of the farmworkers, so I assume he would approve of using this house for that purpose,” said Zazueta, who is close friends with many former CSO organizers. “Enlightening the community and helping them become more involved, more productive and more assimilated into our society.”
Former San Jose Vice Mayor Blanca Alvarado, the first Latina elected to the City Council, worked with Chavez at the CSO before starting her political career. She said the Chavez family house “couldn’t go to a better place.”
“The legacy that is Cesar Chavez is unmistakable. He started the movement to improve lives for farmworkers. But beyond that, he showed us how to work in movements toward social change,” Alvarado told San José Spotlight. “That legacy includes his presence as a starter of movements here in Santa Clara County out on the East Side. We, as pioneers in East San Jose, have been the builders of our own institutions.”
She said like the CSO, her advocacy to establish the Mexican Heritage Plaza during her time on council, and the work of nonprofits like Amigos de Guadalupe, are examples of the community stepping up and demanding better for their neighborhoods that have been institutionally disenfranchised and ignored.
“We have not waited for the authorities to make or to create institutions where we could lead the charge,” Alvarado said. “These are efforts that arose out of our unanimity with the farmworker movement. That’s the legacy.”
Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
Tran Nguyen contributed reporting to this story.