Chavez, Linda: 1947—: Civil Rights Advocate, Columnist, Commentator
Linda Chavez: 1947—: Civil rights advocate, columnist, commentator
Bowed but far from broken by the 2001 derailment of her nomination to serve as labor secretary in the administration of George W. Bush, Linda Chavez remains as outspoken as ever in support of the conservative ideals she champions. At one time almost as passionate about liberal causes, Chavez—like thousands of other political converts—today is even more zealous in her advocacy of right-leaning doctrine than many life-long conservatives. Although Chavez is fiercely proud of her Mexican-American roots, her conservative political stance, particularly her opposition to affirmative action and bilingual education, has put her at odds with many in the Hispanic community. So estranged has Chavez become from the majority of her fellow Hispanics that in 1992 Hispanic magazine referred to her as "the most hated Hispanic in America." Never one to be cowed by vocal opposition to the ideals she espouses, Chavez remains steadfast in her beliefs. As she told an interviewer, "I believe fervently that it is important for Hispanics, as other groups have before them, to learn English, improve their education, and climb the economic ladder.… I am proud of my Hispanic roots. But I am even prouder of being an American and to have benefited from the freedom and opportunity that allowed someone of my humble roots to aspire to the highest reaches of government and public life."
For more than three decades, Chavez has worked both behind the scenes and within the government itself to advance the political causes in which she believes. In the early 1970s, shortly after moving to the nation's capital, Chavez went to work for U.S. Representative Don Edwards, a Democratic congressman from San Jose, California. She also spent time working for the Democratic National Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. During the Carter administration, she served as a consultant to the Office of Management and Budget's reorganization project. A strong believer in the need for educational reform, Chavez worked, in turn, with the National Education Association (NEA), the country's largest teachers' union, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the NEA's biggest rival. Increasingly disillusioned with prevailing liberal attitudes about the position of minorities, particularly within the academic world, she began to form strong views in opposition to the notion that students should be advanced solely on the basis of their race with little regard for their merits. Still a registered Democrat but espousing increasingly conservative views on several key issues, Chavez in 1981 was invited to serve the administration of Ronald Reagan as a consultant. Two years later Reagan named her as director of the nonpartisan U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In the face of growing liberal and Hispanic opposition to her attitudes on civil rights, Chavez in 1985 officially ended her affiliation with the Democratic Party and signed on as a Republican.
At a Glance . . .
Born Linda Chavez on June 17, 1947, in Albuquerque, NM; married Christopher Gersten, 1967; children: David, Pablo, and Rudy. Education: University of Colorado, BA, 1970; undergraduate studies at University of California, Los Angeles, 1970-72. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Republican Party.
Career: House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, staff member, 1972-74; Office of Management and Budget, consultant to civil rights division, 1977; American Educator, editor, 1977-83; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, director, 1983-85; White House Office of Public Liaison, director, 1985-86; unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate from Maryland, 1986; U.S. English, president, 1987-88; WJL-TV, Baltimore, reporter and commentator, 1988–; United Nations Subcommittee on Human Rights, consultant, 1992-96; Center for Equal Opportunity, founder and president, 1995–.
Addresses: Office— c/o Center for Equal Opportunity, 14 Pidgeon Hill Dr., Ste. 500, Sterling, VA 20165.
Difficult Childhood Lead to Early Action
Chavez's childhood was not an easy one. Born into a working class family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 17, 1947, she was raised in Albuquerque and Denver, where her family moved when she was nine years old. Her father, Rudy, a Hispanic descended from 17th- and 18th-century Spanish and Mexican settlers who had come to Mexico as merchants and wool traders, worked in his family's real estate business and later launched his own contracting business. However, all of Rudy's businesses were compromised by his problem drinking, which grew progressively worse over time. Chavez's mother, Velma, of English and Irish descent, worked for the U.S. Post Office when Linda was younger but later become involved in retail sales. Although Chavez encountered little discrimination during her early years in Albuquerque, she began to experience some of the prejudice practiced against Hispanics after the family moved to Denver.
Chavez experienced great personal tragedy during her childhood, losing three of her four siblings by the time she was 12. When she was only five, her half-sister, Pamela, was put up for adoption. Dickie, an older half-brother, was killed in a car accident, and her younger sister, Wendy, succumbed to kidney disease. Adding to the tumult of her childhood, Chavez was entrusted to the care of relatives frequently when her parents were unable to care for her. As a result, she had attended six schools in two states by the time she reached third grade. This childhood upheaval, Chavez said in an interview posted on the Stop Union Political Abuse (SUPA) website, "gave me what has been described as my 'cool,' 'tough' demeanor. But that emotional reserve and toughness also enabled me to face crises in public as well as my private life."
Chavez's exposure to such prejudice galvanized her into action, and she soon became involved in civil rights campaigns to secure the rights of Hispanics and other minorities, including African Americans and women. While still in her teens, Chavez picketed a segregated department store in downtown Denver. The realization that many of her fellow citizens considered minority members intellectually inferior motivated Chavez to excel academically to prove such prejudiced assumptions groundless. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder, working her way through college to a bach-elor's degree in education in 1970. It was during her undergraduate studies at Boulder that Chavez first began to develop misgivings about the government's affirmative action policies. She helped launch a program to tutor Mexican-American students who had been admitted to the school under affirmative action. According to a SUPA website interview, what she witnessed was disillusioning: "Instead of giving students the remedial help they needed in order to succeed, the activists who ran the programs spent their time indoctrinating students in the politics of racial grievance. No one benefited. Not the kids, many of whom dropped out or barely made it through, often by taking ethnic studies courses that ill-prepared them to earn a living afterwards. Nor the schools, which lowered standards to admit the affirmative action students and then offered watered-down curricula to keep them there."
Deemed "Not Minority Enough"
A major factor in Chavez's decision to attend the University of Colorado was a young Jewish man named Christopher Gersten, whom she'd begun dating shortly after high school. Also an ardent supporter of the civil rights movement, Gersten persuaded her to join him as a student in Boulder. The couple were married in a Jewish synagogue in 1967. Although Chavez has said she still considers herself a Catholic, reports persist that she converted to Judaism before her marriage to Gersten. Chavez and Gersten, who heads the Institute for Religious Values, live on a nine-acre farm in Loudon County, Virginia, not far from the nation's capital. They have three children—David, Pablo, and Rudy—and two grandchildren.
Chavez developed further misgivings about affirmative action in 1970 when she applied for a Ford Foundation graduate fellowship for Mexican-American students. She was flown to New York to be vetted by an evaluation panel but later recalled that the interview went badly almost from the start. In introducing herself to the interviewers, Chavez told how she'd grown up in a working class family, worked her way through college, and helped launch an affirmative action program for Hispanic students at Boulder. After she'd concluded her remarks, one of the interviewers commented on how well she spoke English. In an interview posted at the SUPA website, she recalled "He seemed surprised, despite the fact I was about to begin graduate work in English literature! One of the other interviewers then began speaking to me in Spanish, which I don't speak. But the worst part was their reaction to my Graduate Record Exam scores, which they seemed to believe were too high to qualify me as a bona fide minority worthy of their help."
Although she failed in her bid to win the Ford Foundation fellowship, Chavez went ahead with her plans to pursue a graduate degree in English literature, enrolling at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Once again, she became involved in a program to tutor affirmative action students from the Hispanic community. Assigned to teach a course on Chicano literature, Chavez initially resisted, protesting the lack of available published material. When she was pressured to go ahead with the course, she put together the most appropriate reading list she could but then met resistance from students, many of whom refused to read the assigned books and otherwise disrupted her classes. The situation hit a low point when her home was vandalized by a handful of students she had failed in the course. In 1972 she and her husband, who had also abandoned a short-lived career as a teacher, moved to Washington, D.C.
Experienced Political Transformation
Despite her growing disillusionment with prevailing liberal philosophy, Chavez still considered herself a Democrat. She also remained deeply committed to educational issues. She worked briefly for the Democratic National Committee shortly after she arrived in Washington. Not long thereafter, she went to work on Capitol Hill for Don Edwards, a Democratic congressman from California and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. She also worked briefly for the National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest teacher's union, but left when she found herself increasingly at odds with some of the NEA's policies. In 1977 she signed on as editor of American Educator, the official magazine of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest U.S. teachers' union and a rival of the NEA.
During her tenure as editor of American Educator, which continued until 1983, Chavez also served in 1977 as a consultant to the civil rights division of the Office of Management and Budget during the presidential administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter. In her position as editor, Chavez won growing popularity among conservatives for her support of a return to traditional values in the public schools as well as for her opposition to affirmative action. Shortly after the 1981 inauguration of Republican President Ronald Reagan, she was hired as a consultant to the White House, and in 1983, at the urging of William Bennett, who then chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities, Chavez was named director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
In the spring of 1985 Chavez became the highest-ranking woman on Reagan's White House staff when she was named director of the White House Office of Public Liaisons. With her appointment to that post, the time had finally come for her to officially switch her party allegiance from Democratic to Republican. One of her primary duties in that post was to lobby Congress in support of administration policies. She grew disillusioned with the job when she found that her influence over public policy was minimal and in February of 1986 resigned to seek the Republican Party's nomination as its candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from Maryland. Although she cleared the first hurdle, winning the GOP nod as candidate, Chavez was soundly defeated in the November election by Democrat Barbara Mikulski, who had served five terms in the House of Representatives.
Advanced Conservative Causes
After her failed bid for a Senate seat, Chavez turned her attention to another of her pet conservative causes: the formalization of English as the official language of the United States. In 1987 she agreed to serve as president of U.S. English, a nonprofit lobbying organization founded in 1983 by conservative John Tanton. She resigned the following year after learning of Tanton's alleged prejudices against Roman Catholics and Hispanics. To help ensure that the conservative viewpoint was properly showcased in the media, Chavez in 1988 began working as a reporter and commentator for Baltimore TV station WJL-TV. As she gradually developed a reputation as a conservative policy spokes-person, Chavez was invited to appear on a number of news talk shows, many of them broadcast nationally. Chavez also began writing a syndicated column, distributed by Creators Syndicate, and was a frequent contributor to such publications as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Reader's Digest, Washington Post, Commentary, and New Republic.
In 1991 Chavez published Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, in which she argued that it was not racism holding back Hispanics but rather misguided public policies such as affirmative action and bilingual education. The following year she joined the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute and served as director of its Center for the New American Community. Chavez also began work as a consultant to the United Nations Subcommittee on Human Rights, in which capacity she served until 1996.
Chavez founded the Center for Equal Opportunity (CEO) in 1995, a "think tank devoted exclusively to the promotion of colorblind equal opportunity and racial harmony," according to the mission statement on CEO's website. CEO, which Chavez continues to lead as president, focused primarily on the three interrelated issues of affirmative action, immigration and assimilation, and bilingual education. In announcing the formation of CEO, Chavez said: "We're very concerned that many of our public policies do more to set people apart than bring them together. We need to have a truly colorblind set of laws." In the late 1990s Chavez served as an adviser to Silicon Valley millionaire Ron Unz, who helped to finance the successful campaign for California's Proposition 227 that dismantled the bilingual education system in that state.
Cabinet Nomination Derailed
Through the late 1990s and into the new millennium, Chavez's stature as a conservative spokesperson grew significantly. When President-elect George W. Bush nominated her to be his labor secretary on January 2, 2001, conservatives were delighted. Just as predictably, liberal and labor forces were quick to voice their vigorous opposition to her nomination. It was clear from the outset that her nomination would be a tough sell on Capitol Hill. In the end, however, Chavez was undone by the revelation that she had once knowingly harbored Marta Mercado, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, within her household in the early 1990s. She was also charged with paying Mercado less than the minimum wage to do household chores, an allegation Chavez denied. The ensuing furor proved too much to withstand. On January 9, 2001, she withdrew her name from consideration. At a news conference posted on the About Conservatives: U.S. website, Chavez stated, "I have decided that I am becoming a distraction and therefore, I have asked President Bush to withdraw my name as secretary of labor." She added, "I do this with some regret because I think that it is a very, very bad signal to all of those good people out there who want to serve their government and want to serve the people of the United States."
Liberals who thought the nomination debacle would in any way muzzle Chavez were soon disabused of such notions. In her memoir, An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal, published in October of 2002, Chavez once again spoke out forcefully against the liberal public policies she had spent the previous two decades battling. Although she conceded that she had been wrong not to have disclosed the Mercado experience to the Bush transition team, Chavez argued that her alleged offense was not something that should have disqualified her from serving as labor secretary. In his review of the book for American Enterprise, Eric Cox noted the absence of any defense from Chavez. "Instead, she blames a hostile press and political foes who would have used any excuse to sabotage her confirmation. She is undoubtedly right on both counts. But her refusal to refute the merits of the case against her suggests that she believes there are none, which is either a slight aimed at her conservative critics or a remarkable display of political naivete."
Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, Basic Books, 1991.
An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal, Basic Books, 2002.
Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 2003.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., 17 vols., Gale Research, 1998.
Newsmakers 1999, Issue 3, Gale Group, 1999.
American Enterprise, January-February 2003.
Commentary, March 1998; November 2002.
Insight on the News, July 21, 1997; February 12, 2001.
National Review, February 5, 2001.
PR Newswire, February 21, 1995.
"Chavez Withdraws as Labor Sec.-Designate," About Conservative Politics: US, http://usconservatives .about.com/bln0109chavez.htm (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez," Barber & Associates, www.barber usa.com/diversity/chavez_linda_bio.html. (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez," Biography Resource Center, www. gale net.com/servlet/BioRC (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez," Dads Against the Divorce Industry, www.dadi.org/lc_eng1.htm (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez," Eagles Talent Connection, Inc., www.eaglestalent.com/talent/chavez.html (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez," Harry Walker Agency, http://www.harrywalker.com/speakers_template_printer.cfm?Spea_ID=74&SubcatID=152 (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez; A Favorite of Conservatives," ABCNEWS.com, http://abcnews.go.com/sections/poli tics/DailyNews/chavez_profile010201.html (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez - An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal," SUPA: Stop Union Political Abuse http://184.108.40.206/lindacha vez/interview.htm (July 15, 2003).
"Linda Chavez Biography," Republican Issues Campaign, http://republicanissues.com/biography.asp (July 15, 2003).
"Chavez, Linda: 1947—: Civil Rights Advocate, Columnist, Commentator." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.
"Chavez, Linda: 1947—: Civil Rights Advocate, Columnist, Commentator." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/chavez-linda-1947-civil-rights-advocate-columnist-commentator
"Chavez, Linda: 1947—: Civil Rights Advocate, Columnist, Commentator." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Retrieved September 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/chavez-linda-1947-civil-rights-advocate-columnist-commentator
Hispanic American civil rights activist Linda Chavez (born 1947) gained political attention for her conservative view that government policies such as affirmative action do a disservice to Hispanics and other minorities by perpetuating racial stereotypes. Originally a Democratic supporter, her ideas about civil rights and education reform were embraced by the Republican administration of president Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. After an unsuccessful bid for public office herself, Chavez became a prominent political commentator with writings such as her 1991 book, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation.
Driven by a desire to destroy negative stereotypes of Hispanic minorities in America as helpless, illiterate, and impoverished, activist Linda Chavez has fought to do away with government attitudes and programs that treat Hispanics as a homogenous unit. However, the conservative remedies she has supported, including the elimination of affirmative action and racial quota systems in various areas of society, have met with hostility from liberal politicians and civil rights activists in the Hispanic community. Originally a Democrat, Chavez switched her affiliation after finding more support for her ideas in the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan, where she served as an advisor and White House staff member in the 1980s. Although her own attempt to win elected office was unsuccessful, as a political commentator and writer she has remained a prominent figure in the national debate on racial policy.
Chavez was born into a middle-class family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 17, 1947. Her parents, both devout Catholics, came from different racial backgrounds; her mother was Anglo-American and her father was Hispanic. Racial prejudice was not a concern of her early years. The city of Albuquerque was predominately Hispanic, and so she did not encounter difficulties because of her race there. Her father was proud of his heritage as a descendant of seventeenth-century Spanish settlers and also took pride in his country, which he served as a soldier during World War II. But these were qualities that were considered part of private life, not subjects for the public sphere. Her father's quiet approach to his racial identity was influential in Chavez's own ideas later in her life.
Saw Reform Possibilities in Education
Chavez first came into contact with racial prejudice when her family moved to Denver, Colorado, when she was nine. The negative attitudes about minorities that she witnessed there inspired her to join in civil rights movements supporting the causes of Hispanics, African Americans, and women when she was a teenager. She also became to determined to excel in her schoolwork in order to overcome the low expectations of her as a Hispanic. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Colorado, where she decided to pursue a career in teaching. Having tutored some Mexican American students through the college, she knew that teaching was a sometimes difficult job, but one that could play an important role in social reform. During her undergraduate studies, she was married to Christopher Gersten in 1967, but kept her maiden name. In 1970, she graduated from the University of Colorado with a bachelor's degree.
Chavez went on to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she began a graduate program in English literature. She soon became frustrated, however, with the way she was treated by faculty and students because she was Hispanic. In one particularly negative experience, Chavez was given the task of teaching a course on Chicano literature, even though she initially resisted because of the lack of published material in the area. When the department insisted she go through with the course, she put together an appropriate reading list, but found many students in her class were unwilling to read the books or pay attention during her lectures. This disheartening situation reached a peak when some students she had failed in the course vandalized her home in an act of vengeance. Chavez left the university in 1972 and moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband.
Active in Education Issues
In the nation's capital, Chavez did not return to teaching but did remain active in educational issues. She worked with the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers' union in the country, and served as a consultant on education to the federal government's Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In addition, she became an active member of the Democratic National Committee, participating in the promotion of a number of liberal causes. She eventually landed a position with the nation's second-largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which was known as an influential force in education policy. Chavez became a well-known voice on the topic of education reform in her role as editor of the AFT's publication, American Educator. She began to attract notice among conservative politicians in Washington with her editorials calling for a renewed emphasis on traditional educational standards. Throughout the 1970s, Chavez also became increasingly dissatisfied with liberal views on the position of minorities in America. In her personal experience, she felt that liberals sought her out simply because of her symbolism as a Hispanic, not for her own ideas. Similarly, she felt that national programs that did not allow minorities to advance based on their own merits, but gave them financial assistance or employment preference solely because of their race, was demeaning. Hispanics should not be stereotyped as helpless minorities who could not get ahead without government aid, but should be encouraged to succeed through individual effort, she maintained.
With the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980, Chavez found growing sympathy for her ideas among conservatives. She became a consultant for the Reagan administration in 1981, and in 1983 she was appointed by the president to serve as director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The commission was a nonpartisan body responsible for evaluating the government's success in implementing and upholding civil rights laws. Chavez criticized certain aspects of the country's civil rights laws, however, and strongly denounced the affirmative action programs that had been designed to ensure that minorities were represented in certain fields of employment. While she argued that her goal was to foster an unprejudiced environment that evaluated individuals solely by their ability, regardless of race, liberal activists accused her of supporting Republican efforts to dismantle the government's role in ensuring civil rights to minorities.
Views Supported by Republicans
Finding herself lacking support from most Hispanic activists and Democrats, Chavez officially joined the Republican Party after being hired onto Reagan's White House staff in 1985. As director of the Office of the White House Public Liaison, she was the most powerful woman on the staff. Her position gave her an increased level of influence with the president, and she also worked to lobby Congress and a variety of public groups to accept administration policies. She left this post after less than a year's time in order to run a campaign in Maryland for a U.S. Senate seat. Republican Party officials were enthusiastic about her run for senator, hoping that her image as a Hispanic, woman, and married mother of three children would win votes away from the single, white Democratic contender, Barbara Mikulski.
But Republican hopes that Maryland's primarily Democratic voters would abandon their party preference for a more conservative candidate were unrealized. The state's citizens were distrustful of Chavez's short residence in Maryland and her shift in political philosophy. Behind in the polls, the Republicans began a negative campaign, during which Chavez further alienated voters when she criticized Mikulski's unmarried status and her staff insinuated that the Democrat had ties to lesbian groups. After a major defeat on election day, Chavez decided to remove herself from the political arena.
Book Fuels Debate on Race
She returned to social and educational issues by becoming president of the organization U.S. English. The nonprofit group's aim was to gain the official recognition of English as the national language. After discovering the prejudices against Catholics and Hispanics of the founder of U.S. English, however, she resigned in 1988. Over the coming years, Chavez established herself as policy expert and political commentator. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think-tank, made her a fellow, and she became a regular contributor of editorials on politics to periodicals. She also published a book on her ideas, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation in 1991, bringing her renewed attention from politicians and the press. The work reaffirmed her belief that affirmative action and other programs that focused on the lower socioeconomic levels of Hispanic society created an unrealistic and unflattering picture of Hispanics as a group. As had been the case throughout her career, Chavez's words were controversial with many, but nonetheless had the effect of bringing about serious discussions about the state of the nation's attitude toward minorities. She was the focus of a number of book reviews and also gained the national spotlight when she appeared on television programs such as The McNeil/Lehrer News Hour.
Despite the criticism she has received from many liberal and Hispanic American groups for her conservative views, Chavez has emerged as one of the most visible and influential figures fighting for civil rights and educational reforms. Her thought and example as a successful political personality has made her a role model for some in the Hispanic community, inspiring a growing number of politicians in the minority group to join the Republican Party in the 1990s. Chavez's insistence that racial equity cannot be accomplished by government policies based on stereotypes has given the American public and its leaders additional considerations in the debate on government's role in the welfare of minorities.
See also Arias, Maria, "Making People Mad," Hispanic, August 1992, pp. 11-16; Brimelow, Peter, "The Fracturing of America," Forbes, March 30, 1992, pp. 74-75; Chavez, Linda, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, Basic Books, 1991; Grenier, Jeannin, "The Women Versus Woman Race," Ms., November 1986, p. 27; and Telgen, Diane, and Jim Kamp, editors, Notable Hispanic American Women, Gale Research, 1993. □
"Linda Chavez." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/linda-chavez
"Linda Chavez." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/linda-chavez
Born: June 17, 1947
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Hispanic American civil rights activist and author Throughout her career Hispanic American civil rights activist Linda Chavez has helped change the role of Hispanics in America. Chavez believes that Hispanics and other minorities should be awarded advancement not because of their race but rather for their own achievements.
A childhood without color
Linda Chavez was born into a middle-class family in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on June 17, 1947. Her parents, both devoted Catholics, came from different racial backgrounds. Her mother was Anglo American and her father was Hispanic. Racial prejudice was not a concern during her early years as the city of Albuquerque was mostly Hispanic. Her father was proud of his heritage as a descendant of seventeenth-century Spanish settlers and also took pride in the United States. He served as an American during World War II (1941–45). Chavez's father considered his Hispanic background part of private life, not public. Her father's quiet approach to his racial identity was influential in Chavez's own ideas later in her career.
Prejudice and the possibilities of education
Chavez first came into contact with racial prejudice when her family moved to Denver, Colorado, when she was nine. Chavez witnessed firsthand the negative attitudes about minorities that would later inspire her to join in civil rights movements supporting the causes of Hispanics, African Americans, and women. She also became determined to excel in her schoolwork to overcome the low expectations that some people had of her as a Hispanic.
After graduating from high school, Chavez attended the University of Colorado, where she decided to pursue a career in teaching—a career that she felt could play an important role in social reform. During her undergraduate studies, she married Christopher Gersten in 1967, but she kept her maiden name.
After graduating from the University of Colorado in 1970, Chavez went on to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where she began a graduate program in English literature. However, she became upset with the way she was treated by faculty and students because she was Hispanic. Chavez left the university in 1972 and moved to Washington, D.C., with her husband.
Active in education issues
In the nation's capital, Chavez did not return to teaching but remained active in educational issues. She worked with the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers' union in the country. She served as a consultant (someone who gives expert advice) on education to the federal government's Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In addition, she became an active member of the Democratic National Committee, participating in the promotion of a number of liberal causes. She eventually obtained a position with the nation's second-largest teachers' union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which was known as an influential force in education policy.
Looking for a role in Washington
While editor of the AFT publication, American Educator, Chavez wrote a series of articles urging a return to "traditional values" in American schools. These writings soon brought her to the attention of conservatives in Washington.
Throughout the 1970s Chavez became increasingly dissatisfied with liberal views on minorities in America. She felt that liberals sought her out simply because of her representation as a Hispanic leader, not for her own ideas. Similarly, she developed a growing concern over national programs such as affirmative action (efforts to create equal opportunities for minorities and women in areas such as education and employment). Chavez believed that Hispanics should not be stereotyped, or forced into traditional roles, as helpless minorities who could not get ahead without government aid. She believed Hispanics should be encouraged to succeed through individual effort.
With the election of Ronald Reagan (1911–) to the presidency in 1980, Chavez's ideas received praise from conservatives. She became a consultant for the Reagan administration in 1981. In 1983 she was appointed by the president to serve as director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Chavez continued to criticize certain parts of the country's civil rights laws, especially programs such as affirmative action. Meanwhile, many liberal activists accused her of supporting Republican efforts to weaken the government's role in guaranteeing civil rights to minorities.
Jumping into politics
Finding herself lacking support from most Democrats, Chavez officially joined the Republican Party after being hired onto Reagan's White House staff in 1985. As director of the Office of the White House Public Liaison, Chavez was the most powerful woman on the staff. Her position gave her an increased level of influence with the president, but she left this post after less than a year's time in order to run for senator in Maryland.
For the senatorial race, Chavez ran as a Republican in a mostly Democratic state. The state's citizens were distrustful of Chavez's short residence in Maryland as well as her track record in her shifting political beliefs. On election day, Chavez was handed a devastating defeat. Soon afterwards, she removed herself from the political arena.
From power to the pen
Now free of political loyalties, Chavez returned to producing ideas for social and educational change. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative research institute, made her a fellow (an associate). She also became a regular contributor to many national publications. Her 1991 book, Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation, brought renewed attention from politicians and the press. The work once again showed her belief that affirmative action and other programs created an unrealistic and unflattering picture of Hispanics as a group. As had been the case throughout her career, Chavez's words were often talked about in the media, but they created debate and raised awareness about the state of the nation's attitude toward minorities.
In 1995 she founded the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C., a public policy organization that concentrates on three subjects: racial preferences, immigration and integration, and multicultural education.
In 2000 Chavez was honored by the Library of Congress as a "Living Legend" for her continued involvement and contributions to American culture. In 2001 the newly elected President George W. Bush (1946–) nominated Chavez for Secretary of Labor. Chavez later withdrew her name from consideration. It is believed that she did so because of media allegations that she had housed an undocumented immigrant in her home, which is against the law in the United States.
Despite the criticism she has received from many liberal and Hispanic American groups for her conservative views, Chavez has emerged as one of the most visible and influential figures fighting for civil rights and educational reforms. Her example as a successful political personality has made her a role model for many in the Hispanic community, inspiring a growing number of politicians in the minority group to join the Republican Party.
For More Information
Chavez, Linda. Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation. New York: Basic Books, 1991.
Telgen, Diane, and Jim Kamp, eds. Notable Hispanic American Women. Detroit: Gale, 1993.
"Chavez, Linda." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chavez-linda
"Chavez, Linda." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved September 22, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chavez-linda