March marks the birth month of Cesar Chavez, who played an important part in the fight for agricultural farm worker rights. In order to honor his life’s work, we wanted to share some information about him and the legacy he left behind. Chavez, a farmworker himself, dedicated his life to improving the treatment, pay, and working conditions for farmworkers in America. Cesar Chavez was a good man who dedicated his life to helping others.
Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Arizona. In the 1930s, Cesar Chavez’s father lost his business because of the Great Depression. In 1937, a severe drought forced the family to give up the ranch where they were living, and the following year, Cesar and his family packed their belongings and headed to California in search of work. In California, they became part of the migrant community, traveling from one county to another picking fruits and vegetables during the harvest, living in numerous migrant camps and often sleeping in their car.
After attending more than 30 elementary schools, Cesar graduated from the eighth grade in 1942. Around that same time, his father had been in an accident and was insistent that Cesar’s mother not work in the fields. Having both his mother and father out of work meant Cesar could not to go on to high school. Instead, he quit school and worked full-time in the fields to support his family.
In 1944 at age 17, Cesar enlisted in the United States Navy and served in World War II. After completing a two year duty, he returned to California. In 1948 Cesar married his girlfriend, Helen Fabela, moved into a one-room shack in Delano, CA, and started their family of 7 children.
Life changed for Cesar when he met a man named Fred Ross. Fred Ross believed that if people worked together they could make their communities better. Fred Ross hired Cesar to work for him with the Community Service Organization (CSO) he founded in 1948. Chavez became a community organizer and began his lifelong campaign for civil rights and justice.
Cesar Chavez’s passion was helping others gain the rights and respect every human deserves, but he was especially focused on helping the agricultural workers in America improve their working and living conditions. Using the training and skills he gained working with the CSO and Fred Ross, Cesar left the CSO and founded the National Farm Worker Association (NFWA). Cesar and the workers who joined the NFWA wanted the companies and growers that owned farms to respect their laborers by providing them with fresh water to drink, bathrooms in the fields, and fair pay for their work.
Some companies and growers who refused to treat farm workers with respect and dignity did everything they could to stop Cesar and the farm workers, at times even turning to violence and hurting many farm workers and the people helping them. Cesar, however, believed change could be made without the use of violence.
In 1965, Cesar Chavez and the NFWA led a strike of California grape-pickers to demand higher wages. Cesar urged the farm laborers of America to yell, “Sí se puede! — Yes, we can!” in order to be heard. In addition to the strike, they encouraged all Americans to boycott table grapes as a show of support. Within a few years, and after many strikes, some growers agreed to provide better working conditions for the farm laborers.
Chavez recognized the injustices suffered by those who work hard to provide food to Americans. He spent his life peacefully promoting rights for farmworkers, which led to improved living and working conditions for minority groups across the United States.
Cesar Chavez died on April 23, 1993. His birthday, March 31st, is celebrated in California, Texas and other states and is the first and only holiday honoring a MexicanAmerican. People all over the world remember Cesar Chavez as a man of courage who fought to improve the lives of all people.