The historical family home of Cesar Chavez in East San Jose. Photo by Jana Kadah, San Jose Spotlight

The home of one of San Jose’s greatest activists may become open to the public, depending on a pending purchase.

Nonprofit Amigos de Guadalupe, with the city’s help, put in an offer this week to purchase the family home of Cesar Chavez, a historical landmark in East San Jose at 53 Scharff Ave. The city matched $500,000 toward the purchase. If accepted, the home will be turned into a space for education, historic preservation and housing for young adults.

Rachel Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s niece, is excited about the possibilities.

“It’s continuing his legacy and his legacy is all about education,” she told San Jose Spotlight. “The whole premise of the boycotts back in the 60’s was that he wanted the general public to know what farmworkers were going through to get that food on the table for them.”

Cesar Chavez was a local and national labor leader and civil rights activist who led strikes and protests throughout nearby orchards in Salinas and Delano. He and activist Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later became known as United Farm Workers.

The start of Chavez’s advocacy can be traced to his time in the East San Jose neighborhood originally known as “Sal Si Puedes,” meaning “get out if you can.” Chavez and his wife Helen raised their family in the home from 1951 to 1953, while he worked at a nearby apricot orchard and organized with the Community Service Organization (CSO). Chavez lived with his parents and siblings at the time.

The neighborhood was dubbed “Sal Si Puedes” because the roads in East San Jose were unpaved, unlike the rest of the city, so when it rained cars got stuck in the mud and couldn’t get out easily, said Lily Tenes, co-founder of nonprofit People Acting in Community Together and a San Jose resident for more than 80 years. She noted it points to an institutional lack of investments in East San Jose, which is what the CSO and Cesar Chavez sought to remedy.

It is also what Amigos de Guadalupe seeks to address with their work, said Tenes and her daughter, Darlene, who live in East San Jose.

“(Amigos de Guadalupe is) continuing to do social work in the community and that is an extension of Chavez’s legacy,” Darlene Tenes told San Jose Spotlight. She added she is excited Chavez’s house could be more accessible to the public.

Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, echoed that sentiment and said the purchase would be an “incredible asset” for San Jose. Creating a community space in the home of someone like Chavez is inspirational, especially for historically disenfranchised neighborhoods.

“I’ve never physically walked into this space and I can just imagine how impactful it would be,” Chavez-Lopez told San Jose Spotlight. “I don’t know how much closer you can get to someone than being actually in their home, in their place of refuge and in their environment.”

Rachel Chavez, who helped found Amigos de Guadalupe, said while she fully supports the nonprofit’s vision to purchase it, the decision has to be made between her and her four siblings. She noted her father, Cesar Chavez’s younger brother, willed his children to sell the property so they could all benefit.

Maritza Maldonado, executive director of Amigos de Guadalupe, declined to comment and said she could not disclose the amount offered to purchase the home.

With other offers on the table, Rachel Chavez said the family needs to determine the best way to honor their father’s wishes and their family’s legacy.

“To me, it’s a win-win,” she told San Jose Spotlight. “We honor my uncle’s legacy of education, my father’s wishes and my father’s legacy too which is to help those closest to you. He helped take care of his parents in that home as they were the closest to him. And Amigos de Guadalupe helps the East Side family.”

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