by Barbara Chavez Ybarra

My earliest childhood memory of my Tata Cesar is being in La Paz where we lived with him and my Nana Helen, spending time with him while he would teach me to read. I was named by him because his favorite city was Santa Barbara.

When I was born in Delano I went home to his house where we lived for two years before moving next door.  This was when we became lifetime close and why I was his favorite. For me he was mostly an amazing grandfather and a special teacher. I only knew him in these two ways, and it was all I needed to last me a lifetime. He was always simply “Tata Cesar” who with my “Nana Helen” loved and showed me, my sister and brothers and all our family the way life should be lived and shared.

I remember him as a teacher who led by example and patience with a lot of laughter and fun.  When I was still a child he would laugh and enjoy the times I would walk into his office while he was in meetings. He seemed to stop and encourage me to be curious. This was one of many real-life games he would play with me. Somehow it seemed natural to do this and will always be among my earliest recollections in life.

Though his life was fully dedicated, day and night, to his own cause of farmworkers while l ending himself to any people who were poor or interested in social justice, Tata Cesar seemed to always find time for his grandchildren.  Again, I must say even with a rigorous seven days a week work schedule, he gave me the impression that he loved simply being Tata Cesar when it came to showing, sharing and loving me, and my siblings. 

His patience was something I will never forget. Whether speaking to me as a child using his pet names (he seemed to call all of us “chimbimbos”) or as I grew up Tata Cesar focused on us whenever he could. He somehow made the most of each encounter. Special recollections include the many times he played baseball with us or took us on hikes in La Paz where he lived.

During times like those he would give us all his attention, fully enjoying moments of laughter and fun while taking time to teach us about our surroundings, the importance of taking care of the land and our environment. I never once remember him being upset and his words were always positive, funny and of an encouraging nature.

Easter Sunday along with Christmas Day were days he reserved for spending time with his grandchildren and family. On Easter Sunday, there was always a family softball game, where he played pitcher for both teams, as too always be fair, followed by a barbecue. Even though he was a vegetarian he could often be heard showing us how to barbecue meat and chicken properly while telling us how bad it was to eat the poor animals.

I miss my Tata Cesar every day and our family has not been the same without him. Christmas is a day when I remember him the most. Tata Cesar loved playing Santa Claus after Midnight Mass. We would all cram into the small living room of their two-bedroom home with the smell of tamales, hot chocolate and the sounds of Christmas music. As we grew up the room got smaller every year with hardly any space to walk among a roomful of excited grandchildren and adults. One by one Tata would reach for presents, read and call out the name of who it was for and from, make a guess about the content of the present and hand or pass it to each of us.

I was only 20 years old when we lost Tata. I had grown to understand who he was to others and what his cause represented to people and our world. His hard work and dedication to what he really believed in was in and of itself a great lesson and inspiration.  He didn’t preach to us about doing the right things, he just did them and showed the way through example. The main thing I learned from him was to have the courage of your convictions, act on them consistently and treat people in the way you want to be treated, to stand on my own and to take what he taught me to confidently create and innovate in whatever I do and wherever I go. I really miss him as the leader of our family. While the world and his cause truly lost a great leader to me losing my Tata was an everlasting personal jolt. I am always curious as to what other things he would have done had he lived longer. He had many plans beyond his work with farm workers.

What I cherish most is that we had a grandfather/granddaughter relationship that was real, lasting, and personal. He showed his love and affection in a genuine way, always teaching us how to be good people. I feel truly honored to have known him in a way that not many not many others did. 

Barbara Chavez Ybarra is Cesar and Helen’s fifth grandchild.  She lives in San Diego, CA and owns and operates Ybarra Public Affairs with her family.

(From our archives with permission of La Voz de Austin)

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