From “Sal Si Puedes" to "Sí, Se Puede"
SP Press editor Andy Singleterry shares how the legacy of Cesar Chavez resounds in San José
Most people associate Cesar Chavez with the United Farm Workers union and the boycotts he organized for the rights and dignity of his people. If we know a little more of the history, we might also associate him with repentant fasting and his exemplary incorporation of Christian spirituality with labor leadership. Geographically, that work centered in Delano, an agricultural town in California’s central valley.
But Chavez’s leadership began in San José. In the 1950s, as a young man, he lived in the Mayfair neighborhood of east San José—one of the neighborhoods where Servant Partners lives and ministers now. That house, a few blocks from many of our staff homes, remains in the Chavez family to this day. Our Servant Partners team in San José draws strength from this strong historical connection in the Mayfair neighborhood.
Yet “Mayfair” is not the only name associated with the place. When Chavez lived here, it was known as “Sal Si Puedes,” which translates to “get out if you can.” Obviously, this was not considered a desirable place to live. The name itself declared that Mayfair had nothing good, nothing worth staying for.
Chavez’s famous slogan, “Sí, se puede,” directly contradicts the name of his former neighborhood. “Sí, se puede” means “yes, it is possible” or, as President Obama and many others have translated it, “yes, we can.” Chavez’s UFW lieutenant, Dolores Huerta, originated the slogan during one of Chavez’s fasts to sum up the positive spirit of the union and its leader.
“Sal si puedes” became “sí, se puede;” the uncertainty of “si” — if — became the faith of “sí” — yes. These contradictory messages intersected in the story of one leader and his movement. As urban ministers and neighbors, we hope to trace the same line in our communities.
Andy Singleterry co-leads the Servant Partners site in San José, California, and is the Editor of Servant Partners Press.