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Hero, Heroine, or Héro?

The word “hero” most often summons male images. In part, that’s because we most often use “hero” for men and “heroine” for women, at least until recently. I’m glad we are abandoning that convention, as well as the distinction between actor/actress, though it is interesting that we have retained the traditional male terms. There is one exception to that. I recently had to complete a form, and I checked the box labeled “widow.” Since then, I’ve been wondering if that is the new standard for a person, male or female, who has lost a spouse.

It won’t surprise me if the one dual-gendered term that ends up using the traditional female form of the word is negative. I was surprised recently when I heard an older woman use the term “hero” that I had to adjust my thinking when I realized she was talking about a young woman. “Wait,” I thought, “I’ve worked almost my entire adult life to eradicate sexism. I’ve been beaten to a pulp over my insistence that churches and seminarians use gender-balanced language. How on earth could I still assume that a hero is a male?!?”

In our current sermon series at Virginia-Highland Church, Faith & Film, which is based on movies, we have used “Wonder Woman,” “Hidden Figures,” and “Moana,” each of which has a woman (or women) as the hero. (Okay, we did slip “Spider-Man” in there, too.) This Sunday, our modern lesson is the lesser-known biopic “Cesar Chavez.” In this case, we also will be recognizing a non-traditional hero.

Chavez was an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, later the United Farm Workers union (UFW), in 1962. Originally a Mexican-American farm worker, Chavez became the best-known Latino-American civil rights activist, and was strongly promoted by the American labor movement, which was eager to enroll Hispanic members. His public relations approach to unionism, and his aggressive but nonviolent tactics, made the farm workers’ struggle a moral cause with nationwide support. By the late 1970s, his tactics had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. (from Wikipedia)

In a time when ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is raiding homes and schools and malls to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central and South America, it is important on Labor Day Sunday to recognize the reality that much, if not most, of the real labor that takes place in this country is performed by this constituency. The idea that people can be “illegal” has replaced some of the racial bigotry that long has been a political force in this country. To change this, I think we must recognize that, regardless of their gender, the people who do most of the manual labor in this country are heroes … or, in this case, héroes.




Rev. Michael Piazza

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