“THE MESSIANIC quality about him is suggested by his voice, which is mesmerizing — soft, perfectly modulated, pleasantly accented.”
Those words were written not to describe Christ, but rather Cesar Chavez. They are from John Gregory Dunne's book about the labor leader (“Delano: The Story of the California Grape Strike”), notes the Atlantic. And they get at the nub and the rub of the latest controversy over a Google Doodle.
Some critics say the California-based tech titan is snubbing a religious holiday by celebrating the modern activist. Instead of acknowledging either a spiritual or secular Easter, Google chose to honor on its home page — for the first time — the late United Farm Workers co-founder upon Chavez’s birthday. (Google last marked Easter with a Doodle in 2000.)
“We enjoy celebrating holidays at Google but, as you may imagine, it's difficult for us to choose which events to highlight on our site,” a Google spokesperson tells Comic Riffs on Sunday. “Sometimes for a given date, we feature an historical event or influential figure that we haven't in the past.”
That reasoning doesn’t mollify some who upbraided Google on Sunday.
“A huge BOOO!! to Google for making their holiday doodle about Cesar Chavez's 86th birthday instead of Easter,” tweeted The NASCAR Family. (Other prominent critics who took to Twitter included Glenn Beck and Fox News’ Dana Perino.)
And the right-leaning site the Daily Caller wrote: “While Google frequently decorates its logo to celebrate various holidays and special events, it is unclear why the company chose specifically to honor Chavez’s birthday, instead of Easter Sunday.” The Daily Caller made a point of noting ties between Google executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and the Obama White House.
In 2011, President Obama proclaimed a Cesar Chavez Day to be marked each March 31. “Through boycotts and fasts, he led others on a path of nonviolence conceived in careful study of the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi, and in the powerful example of Martin Luther King, Jr,” the presidential proclamation said of the Arizona-born civil-rights leader. “He became a community organizer and began his lifelong advocacy to protect and empower people.” Last year, Obama proclaimed the establishment of the Cesar Estrada Chavez National Monument in Keene, Calif. — a year after the leader’s residence and the UFW headquarters were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Last Monday in Washington, the “Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement” were inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor and the department’s auditorium was named the Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Auditorium; Chavez died in 1993. (At the event, Dolores Huerta — who co-founded the UFW with Chavez 50 years ago — told the story behind the birth of the movement’s famed phrase “Si, se puede,” which Obama adopted as a campaign slogan during his 2008 presidential run.)
As the Internet jeered and cheered Google’s decision and the inherent cultural politics, the site BuzzFeed noted that some critics — including the conservative website Twitchy — initially mistook the Doodle’s figure for recently deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
Some detractors of the Chavez Doodle appreciated that the search engine Bing, unlike Google, at least noted Easter, with an image of decorated eggs. Twitchy rounded up tweets from some new Bing fans, including @OldMomster, who wrote: “google has cesar chavez pic. Bing has Easter Eggs. Thank you Bing 4 recognizing the day. Happy Easter 2 all & to the faithful: He has risen.”
Cartoonist and commentator Lalo Alcaraz (syndicated creator of “La Cucaracha”) was among those who supported the Chavez Doodle — and who reacted sharply to the backlash against Google.
“As I searched for some historical images for a new history book I’m illustrating, I saw that Google had finally honored farm labor icon Cesar Chavez with their ‘Google Doodle,’ “ the California-based Alcaraz, a radio host on the Pocho Hour of Power, tells Comic Riffs. “I thought, ‘Brace yourselves for anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant, anti-Cesar Chavez racist hate from Internet Christians on their Holy Day.”
Alcaraz also mocked those who failed to realize which Chavez was being honored.
“Since many of the hateful tweets attacked ‘strongman Cesar Chavez,’ I soon realized many of these genius zealots were slightly confused, and had misdirected their religious hatred towards the wrong brown man — recently deceased and not yet risen Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,” Alcaraz tells us. “So far, no one is upset that the boxer Julio Cesar Chavez was honored.”
Added Alcaraz: “Last time I checked Google was a search engine, not a church. Although I do worship it occasionally for the wisdom it spouts just when I need it.”
Elsewhere, the San Jose-based Mexican Heritage Festival tweeted: “Bravo Google for honoring Cesar, a man of faith and peace on this Easter Sunday. Andale gente!” And writer -actor-screenwriter B.J. Novak tweeted: “If you were to go back and tell Cesar Chavez that someday his head would be the ‘O’ in Google, I bet he would have some follow-up questions.”
Meanwhile, the right-leaning Catholic journal First Things — in a piece titled, “Why It’s Fitting to Remember Cesar Chavez on Easter Sunday” — wrote: “Yet Google’s odd choice should remind us that whatever one thinks of Chavez’s politics, they are impossible to understand apart from his belief in the resurrected Christ.”
(NOTE: The 135th annual White House Easter Egg Roll is scheduled for tomorrow.)
[ELSEWHERE: POST OPINIONS: Could Google tilt a close election?]