Cesar Chavez Biography

Cesar Chavez, the Latino-American civil rights activist, is a remarkable figure whose story is both intriguing and inspiring. His famous words, ‘Si, se puede’ (Yes, it can be done), encapsulate the cause he fought for and the sacrifices he made to advocate for the rights of farm workers and others using non-violent means. As a former migrant farm worker himself, Chavez understood the hardships faced by these workers and dedicated his life to improving their living conditions. Through his unionism and forceful yet non-violent tactics, he garnered coast-to-coast support for the farm workers’ struggle. His efforts, including leading protests, calling for embargoes, and going on hunger strikes, gained him the backing of influential figures such as Jesse Jackson and Robert Kennedy. Sadly, his frequent hunger strikes took a toll on his health and ultimately led to his untimely demise. Nonetheless, Chavez’s legacy as a champion for justice and equality continues to inspire generations.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Cesario Estrada Chavez
  • Died At Age: 66
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Helen Fabela
    • Father: Librado Chávez
    • Mother: Juana Estrada Chávez
    • Siblings: Helena, Richard, Rita Chavez Medina, Vicki Chavez Lastra
    • Children: Ana, Anthony, Eloise, Fernando, Linda, Paul, Sylvia
  • Quotes By Cesar Chavez
  • Civil Rights Activists
  • Died on: April 23, 1993
  • Place of death: San Luis, Arizona, United States
  • Ancestry: Mexican American
  • U.S. State: Arizona
  • Founder/Co-Founder: National Farm Workers/United Farm Workers (UFW)
  • More Facts
  • Awards:
    • 1992 – Pacem in Terris Award
    • 1994 – Presidential Medal of Freedom
    • 1989 – Gandhi Peace Award

Childhood & Early Life

Cesar Estrada Chavez was born into a Latin-American family in Yuma, Arizona. His family was into the ranch business and they also owned a grocery store, however, all their businesses were lost during the Great Depression. The family moved to California, where they faced a number of problems, while settling as migrant farm workers. He quit school in 1942, when he was in 7th grade, because he wanted to help his mother in the fields. In 1944, he enlisted in the United States Navy and served the same for two years. However, later in life, when he looked back at this time, he deemed it as the ‘worst two years of his life’.

Career

Once he got out of the Navy, he worked in the fields until 1952. It was during this period that he became the organizer for the ‘Community Service Organization’, a civil rights group. Six years later, he became the CSO’s national director. In 1962, he co-founded ‘National Farm Workers Association’ with Dolores Huerta. The organization was later renamed to ‘United Farm Workers’. He also supported the ‘Delano grape strike’, by Filipino American farm workers who fought for higher wages, three years later. In 1965, along with the NFWA, he led a strike of California grape pickers on the momentous farmhands march from Delano to California state capitol in Sacramento for parallel goals. This strike persisted for five years and attracted extensive national attention. In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy, who was a subcommittee participant of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, openly voiced his support in favour of Chavez’ grape strike. The same year, Chavez led the UFW to Austin in support of farm workers’ rights. His protests and movements stimulated the establishment of two popular unions – Oberos Unidos and Farm Labor Organizing Committee. In 1968, he fasted for a total of 25 days to promote the principle of non-violence, inspired by Gandhian principles and the Catholic tradition of ‘penance’. Through the 70s, Chavez and his unions organized a number of boycotts and strikes including the ‘Salad Bowl strike’, which went on to become the largest farm worker strike in U.S. history. In 1973, the UFW also set up a ‘wet line’ along the boundary of Mexico and the United States in order to prevent Mexican settlers from illegitimately entering the United States. In the 1980s, he led a boycott to protest the use of toxic pesticides on grapes. He also went on a hunger strike or as he called it, ‘spiritual fasts’, to garner more public attention. During this time, he also became one of the key figures in getting the exoneration provisions into the 1986 federal immigration act. In 1988, he fasted for 36 days to protest pesticide use.

Major Works

He co-founded the ‘National Farm Workers Association’ along with Dolores Huerta, to augment the working conditions of farm workers. People from all backgrounds including Americans, Mexicans, Filipinos and African-Americans joined his organization to support his cause. This later came to be known as the ‘United Farm Workers’ union. Together, they initiated the Delano grape strike and more such boycotts, which eventually led to the founding of two other independent unions – Oberos Unidos and Farm Labor Organizing Committee.

Awards & Achievements

In 1973, he was awarded the Jefferson Award for ‘Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged’. In 1992, he was the presented the ‘Pacem in Terris Award’. He was posthumously awarded the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ by Bill Clinton, in 1994.

Personal Life & Legacy

He married Helen Fabela and the couple bore eight children. He passed away of unspecified causes in San Luis, Arizona and was interred at the National Chavez Center in Kern County, California. There have been countless books on his life, one of the most famous being, ‘Colegio Cesar Chavez, 1973-1983: A Chicano Struggle for Educational Self-Determination’. There are a number of parks in San Jose, Berkeley, Sacramento and Long Beach that are named after him. In 2004, the National Chavez Center was opened on the UFW national headquarters campus. There are also a number of elementary schools named in his honor. The University of Arizona campus honored him with a building called, ‘Cesar E. Chavez Building’. Cesar Chavez’s birthday is celebrated in Texas, California and Colorado as a state holiday in order to honor his noble work.

Trivia

This famous labor organizer and union leader is directly related to the famous professional golfer, Sam Chavez.

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