Things That Matter

César Chávez Changed The Way Our Country Treats Immigrant Farm Workers But There’s Still A Lot Of Work To Be Done

If you are a Latino living in the United States, you’ve probably heard the name César Chávez. He was one of the first freedom fighters that advocated for the rights of farm workers, many of which had Mexican heritage. César Chávez is an icon of Chicano identity and still a source of inspiration for civil rights advocates and for those who use reason to fight injustice. 

Here are 21 facts about one of the most amazing Latino community leaders of all time.

He was born in Yuma, Arizona.

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His full birth name is César Estrada Chávez (yes, he took on his mom’s last name) and he was born on March 31, 1927. 

He had five siblings and grew up in an adobe house.

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César Chávez knew what it was to live precariously from a very early age. His family owned a ranch, but they lost the land during the Great Depression. They also lost the family home and so.

His parents moved the family from Arizona to California in search of work like many families.

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César Chávez’s parents, Juana Estrada and Librado Chávez were forced to move to California, where they became migrant farm workers. They faced many tribulations picking peas, lettuce, cherries, grapes, and beans. 

César Chávez became a farm worker, and thus his life as an activist began.

When he was a teenager he found the great solidarity that he showed for his whole life. He and is sister volunteered to drive fellow farmers to the doctor when they needed to be looked after. He soon discovered that things are better achieved when community members help each other. 

He dropped out of school in seventh grade.

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Young César Chávez couldn’t go to school while his mother worked the fields, so he left his formal education and became a full-time farmer.

He worked on farms until he joined the United States Navy in 1942.

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The experience was quite negative. César Chávez had hoped to translate the skills he learned in the military to his civil life. He served for two years only during World War II.

1952: an activist and pop culture star was born.

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César Chávez worked en el campo non-stop until 1952 when he became an organizer for the Community Service Organization, a group that looked after Latino rights. In this role he met Fred Ross, an experienced community organizer and the rest, as they say, is history. He urged voters to work and protested industry malpractices.

He founded the National Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta.

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Just 10 years after starting his activist efforts, César Chávez founded the NFWA with fellow Mexican-American activist Dolores Huerta. This dynamic duo revolutionized farmers’ conditions in the United States and started an era of non-violent protest against powerful corporations and government wrongdoings.

With Dolores Huerta by his side, he led a historic strike in the grape industry.

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The year was 1965 and the conditions were ripe for a great leap in the workers’ rights movement. With Huerta, César Chávez organized a consumer boycott against Californian grapes until labor conditions were improved for grape pickers. The strike made the national headlines and even Robert F. Kennedy supported the movement.

In 1966 the lucha expanded to Texas and farm owners were terrified.

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César Chávez is mostly known for his activism in California, but his legacy has impacted the whole country. In 1966 similar movements started in Texas and the Midwest, where César Chávez’s legacy led to the formation of unions such as Obreros Unidos in Wisconsin and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in Ohio.

César Chávez and United Farm Workers organized the largest strike in U.S. history with results.

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Known as the Salad Bowl Strike, it happened in the early 1970s and consisted in a series of strikes and boycotts demanding higher wages for grape and lettuce workers. In order to support the strike, César Chávez fasted as a form of non-violent demonstration.

He was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi.

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After that, César Chávez used fasting as a form of protest. He fasted, for example, when Arizona prohibited boycotts and strikes by farm workers. He was inspired by Catholic doctrine and by the non-violent forms of resistance made popular by Gandhi when resisting British rule in India.

He was a family man.

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When he returned from his service in the military he married his high school novia, Helen Fabela. They moved to San Jose and had eight children.

He was a vegan.

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Long before the vegan movement gathered full force, he was a vegan, both because he fought for animal rights and because he had some health issues.

He was proud to be a Roman Catholic.

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It is not common for leftist activists to follow a religion, but César Chávez was a devout Catholic. He felt that the doctrine echoed his own sense of social justice, similar to what some Liberation Theology priests in Latin America have advocated for.

He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three occasions.

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Even though he didn’t get the accolade, the American Friends Service Committee put forward his nomination three times. The prize would have been la cereza en el pastel, but to be honest, his legacy doesn’t really need it.

He has been a part of the California Hall of Fame since 2006.

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Thirteen years after his death then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the First Lady Maria Shriver hicieron los honores.

He was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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Then-president Bill Clinton presented the coveted award on September 8, 1994. César Chávez’s partner in crime, Dolores Huerta, got hers from Barack Obama. 

César Chávez Day is a state holiday in California.

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Mark your calendars: March 31. It is not a federal holiday, but Barack Obama urged Americans to “observe this day with appropriate service, community, and educational programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.”

There are numerous schools, libraries, and parks named after him.

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Most of them are in California but don’t be surprised if you find one in your hometown.

He died on April 23, 1993, pero la lucha sigue!

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He died of natural causes at the house of his friend and fellow farm worker Dofia Maria Hau. He is buried at the National Chavez Center in Kern County, California, the epicenter of his now legendary struggle to reach fair conditions for the many heroes working the land.

READ: Rep. Gohmert Has Filed A Resolution To Change Cesar Chavez Day To ‘National Border Control Day’

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