One of our greatest social activists and labor leaders is Cesar Chavez, who after leaving school in the 8th grade to work in the California fields with his family, went on to lead the charge for rights for millions of farm workers.
Chavez’ contributions go beyond any one cause, with contributions not only to farm worker’s rights but impacts to the way our food is grown and produced as well.
He was born in Yuma, AZ to immigrant parents in 1927 and the family moved to California in 1939. They moved up and down the Golden State while working in the fields for the next decade and this is where Cesar came in contact with the conditions he’d spent his life improving.
He went on to found the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 and his union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California. The two organizations later merged to become the United Farm Workers and they achieved change through actions of nonviolence: boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes.
Here are two videos about the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez along with some interesting facts about him that you may not know.
Mini-documentary from the History Channel: (4 min)
The Life of Cesar Chavez video from The Cesar Chavez Statue Committee: (6 min)
-President John F. Kennedy offered Chavez a position as a head of the Peace Corps for parts of Latin America but he turned it down to continue his farm worker’s cause.
-In 1972, Chavez and Huerta coined the term “Si se puede,” quickly becoming the United Farm Workers (UFW) official motto, and acted as the inspiration for President Obama’s “Yes, we can” 2008 campaign message.
-Chavez was a well-known vegetarian and remained one for the rest of his “after realizing that animals feel afraid, cold, hungry and unhappy like we do.”
-Chavez had a condition known as Venus de Milo foot where his second toes were longer than the first causing great pain when he marched. In addition, JFK’s personal doctor claimed Chavez suffered from an abnormality where his left side was bigger than his right side.
-At the age of 61, Cesar Chavez fasted for 36 days in 1988 to protest the use of pesticides in the field as a result of high rates of cancer from farm workers working in the grape fields. Many reports claim he was on the edge of death with him losing 30 lbs. and constantly losing consciousness.
-Before dropping out of school to help his migrant farm worker parents, Chavez attended more than 38 schools before the 8th grade.
-He used to sell Christmas trees in a lot in San Jose, CA where he began his early work as a farm worker’s organizer.
-A US Navy cargo ship is named after him. An array of American streets, schools and even a national monument are named after Cesar Chavez. But he also spent two years in the U.S. Navy, and since Lewis and Clark-class cargo ships are named after “American pioneers and visionaries,” the USNS Cesar Chavez debuted in 2011.