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Who is Cesar Chavez?

Most people don’t know that March 31st is Cesar Chavez Day. President Obama in 2014 made it a federal commemorative Holiday. Every year on March 31st we celebrate his birth and legacy. A true American hero, Cesar Chavez was a Latino-American activist, union leader, and labor organizer. His early harsh experience as a migrant worker shaped his future views.

A first-generation American, he was born on March 31, 1927, near the North Gila River Valley outside Yuma, Arizona. At age 11, his family lost their farm during the Great Depression and became migrant farm workers. Throughout his youth and into adulthood, Cesar traveled the migrant streams throughout California laboring in the fields, orchards and vineyards, where he was exposed to the hardships and injustices of farm worker life.

Due to being migrant workers he attended several schools. He finally finished eight grade and he started working full time to help support his family. Eventhough he completed his education at 8th grade, he had a keen intelligence and was self-taught in a range of subjects throughout his life.

Chavez join the Navy in 1946 and served in the Western Pacific. When he returned home from the Service, he fell in love and married Helen Fabela, whom he met working in the fields and vineyards in around Delano. Together they settled in the East San Jose barrio of “Sal Si Puedes”, and had eight children, and later 31 grandchildren.

Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which joined the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California. The two organizational later merged and became the United Farm Workers. Chavez led a march in 1968 that led to a boycott that resulted in a collective bargaining agreement that guaranteed field workers to form a union.

Chavez believed in nonviolent methods, such as boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes. Eventhough there was some conflicts with the Teamsters union and legal barriers, Chavez was able to get obtain raises and improve conditions for farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida.

Chavez died in 1993 but his legacy will be as a True American Hero. Senator Robert F. Kennedy described Cesar Chavez as “one of the heroic figures of our time.”

Originally published on March 12, 2018. Last Updated on August 29, 2021 by Pattie Cordova

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