Today: Flora Chavez, a guardian angel.
Many people idolize celebrities. Yet the greatest people among us are the enlightened that help uplift the world and do it without fame or fanfare. Such a person was Flora Chavez, whose story will amaze you.
Born Flora Silver in Kentucky in 1918, this white child grew up in Albuquerque, NM where in 1935 during the Great Depression, at the age of 17, she married Filaberto Chavez. This hard working couple became jacks of all trades who eventually had 3 daughters to support. After World War ll began in 1941, they moved to Los Angeles and both worked in defense plants, he as a metal worker at Douglas Aircraft and she as a “Rosie the Riveter” at Hughes Aircraft and at Lockheed.
After World War ll, in barrios and farms across California, Mexican-American men and women, most of them living in poverty and discrimination, began to seek equal rights and a better future for themselves and their families. Flora was an activist in the Community Service Organization (CSO) working to protect them from police brutality, while registering them to vote, improving schools and filing lawsuits against housing and workplace discrimination as well as lobbying legislators for equal rights for Hispanic people and other minorities.
Among CSO’s alumni was Cesar Chavez a leader of the United Farm Workers union (UFW). Farm workers had never been organized and were no match for huge growers who often treated them as sub-humans, with miserable wages and primitive housing. Those workers who objected were either not hired or if undocumented, turned in to the INS for arrest and deportation, which cut off the income they and their families so desperately needed.
In this climate of fear and intimidation, Cesar Chavez and others in the UFW still managed to organize the workers, who peacefully went on strike for livable wages, medical coverage, an end to child labor, an end to indiscriminate pesticide spraying that sickened many workers, livable housing, schools for their children and outhouses in the fields so the workers, men and women, could use a rest room in privacy.
In the late 1960’s when the strikes and boycotts began against California’s giant grape growers, Flora helped the UFW by collecting food for the strikers and on weekends taking their children to Los Angeles for free medical and dental care. Many Americans and Canadians honored those boycotts and the strikes succeeded. Meanwhile, for 30 years Flora ran a CSO Los Angeles area credit union out of her home so poor people could borrow money at affordable rates. Occasionally she got paid to do this but usually she simply volunteered her time.
At times when they ran out of money to loan, Flora loaned her own savings to customers from gardening crews, restaurant kitchens, house cleaning and to other poor people. Those who got loans from the credit union were so honest and determined that after 30 years and a total of $2 million in loans to hundreds of people, only 2 failed to pay their loans back. “The people who first came to us, most of them had gone to the 3rd grade,” Flora told the Credit Union Journal. “Now their children are in college or graduated from college as professional people. We can be very proud.”
Flora lived in a tiny Los Angeles area home, in a run-down crime ridden neighborhood and to help protect the families living there, she pressured the Los Angeles Police Department to provide better security. She also mediated disputes between African-American and Hispanic gangs to sharply reduce the violence. And she allowed poor people to stay overnight in her home. This is but a sampling of this remarkable woman’s work.
But at the age of 85, on September 4th, 2003, Flora passed away in her home from cancer. She was survived by 2 of her 3 daughters, 4 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. And Flora was survived by the tens of thousands of people she helped.
One of those people was Lailani Martinez, a baby Flora took into her home and at the age of 76, began to raise her after her mother abandoned her. Lailani was just 9 years old when Flora died but Flora arranged for the child to remain in her home to be raised by her stepfather, whom Flora had also raised. Until her cancer’s late stages, Flora took Lailani to school each day and became one of that school’s most dedicated volunteers, including helping to clean it and to read stories to the children. For this was Flora, always finding ways to help or rescue others, a guardian angel.
Success Tip of the Week:
You too could make a big difference by just volunteering a little of your time such as at your local school or at a senior citizen’s center.
To learn more about Flora, please see “Flora Chavez, 85; Longtime Westside Activist, Volunteer,” Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2003/sep/14/local/me-chavez14, the article from which her quote was taken.
In the next KazanToday:
“Father Dollar Bill:” a beacon of hope to Los Angeles’s destitute.