Today is a holiday in eight U.S. states, including mine (California)! It honors Cesar Chavez, who was born on this day in 1927 and died in 1993. State offices and some schools are closed—including my daughter's college campus.
You may be wondering who Cesar Chavez was. Well, he was a Mexican American farm worker who became a labor leader and civil rights activist. Along with Dolores Huerta, he started the United Farm Workers labor union, and his work helped make a huge improvement in the lives of many. And like Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., Chavez emphasized peaceful demonstrations and peaceful, constructive action at a time when there was a lot of tension and even violence during some other protest movements.
Cesar Chavez was saying “Yes, we can!” long before the Barack Obama presidential campaign—but it was in Spanish: “Si, se puede.” Chavez helped prove that grassroots efforts to register voters, to gain signatures on petitions, and persuade voters and consumers to support the workers' cause and stand up to monied interests—he proved that all of the things that many people said were impossible, could and did happen.
As Randy Shaw wrote on BeyondChron, Chavez and those who worked with him were able to unite students, women, clergy, and workers to make needed changes and to win human rights.
Robert Kennedy supported Chavez's civil rights efforts, and in return Chavez and his organization supported Kennedy's run for presidency. It is the UFW that is credited with winning the California primary for Kennedy (who was tragically assassinated the night of the victory).
Learn more about Chavez.
- There is a nice bio here with lots of photos.
- And this is one of many YouTube videos about him.
- Pictured at right is the National Chavez Center, where Chavez is buried.
Chavez started his civil rights work to gain rights to better, healthier working conditions for migrant farm workers who went from farm to farm, region to region, picking fruits and vegetables. How about, in honor of Chavez, learning some Spanish words for fruits and vegetables? You can also have a big fruit salad and a big green salad for lunch today!
- And this is fun! It's a translation game with fruits and veggies!
I remember, as a kid, we couldn't eat grapes. For years!
Some grape growers in California at the time treated their migrant workers horribly. The working and living conditions were very unhealthy, and the pay was unbelievably low—an entire family might get paid just twenty cents for three hours of work!
Things were bad, so Chavez and the UFW organized strikes—which means organized refusals to work until certain conditions were changed—and also a large protest march to California's capital, Sacramento. However, those actions weren't enough. Chavez asked the wider community—the people all across America—to support their efforts to win human rights. He called for a boycott of all table grapes.
A boycott is when people refuse to buy a certain product. Chavez asked all of us to join in his protest against the grape growers, and he persuaded many in the U.S. to support him. My parents were among those persuaded. For years, until the growers finally singed union contracts, we just didn't buy or eat grapes!
More fruit stuff!