|Farm Workers' Altar
The Colorado artist Emanuel Martínez created Farm Workers’ Altar to celebrate an important event in the Chicano movement. On March 10, 1968, in the fields near Delano, California, labor organizer César Chávez broke a twenty-five-day fast at a Mass celebrated at this altar. Chávez endured his fast to protest unfair employment practices and substandard living conditions of migrant workers. By ending his hunger strike at a Christian celebration of Mass, Chávez honored the long commitment of religious leaders to social justice.
In addition, the Mass for which this altar was built was attended by farm workers and civil rights advocates from across the country, as well as by Senator Robert F. Kennedy and other national leaders who were deeply committed to equal opportunities in social services and education.
The artist painted pre-Columbian and European symbols and figures on the altar to indicate the mestizo heritage that Chicanos celebrate. In Catholicism the altar is a symbol of Christ’s Last Supper, a place for physical and spiritual nourishment and a reaffirmation of faith. This altar is one of the most important icons of the early Chicano movement because of its visual images that represent cultural, social, and economic issues important to La Causa (the cause).
Motifs painted on the altar include clasped hands of people from many races working together to gather the harvest, surrounding an abstract black eagle on a red background, the symbol of the United Farm Workers of America, Chávez’s organization. Many workers who attended the Mass in the middle of a field, the site of their labor, would have recognized these symbols. The sun is formed from the mestizo image of a head with the central face composed of two profiles that represent both indigenous peoples and Europeans. These images, along with the peace symbol and the crucifix, evoke a sense of unity between social and religious causes and celebrate the diversity and character of humanity.
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