Cesar Chavez Day: His Tireless Fight for Equality and Economic Justice
Let’s travel back in time to March 31, 1927, in the small city of Yuma, Arizona. On that day almost one hundred years ago, Cesar Estrada Chavez was born to Mexican-American parents. While his parents welcomed him to the world with joy, little did they know the huge influence that their baby boy would have on the United States. He was destined to change the rights of agricultural workers across America. Today we’re going to look at who Cesar Chavez was, the impact he had, and how he is celebrated today.
Who was Cesar Chavez?
While the name Cesar Chavez is now very well known in Latino (and non-Latino!) communities across the United States, this man had a very humble start. Cesar’s father was the son of first-generation Mexican immigrants, and his mother immigrated to the United States as a baby. Like many other immigrants, the Chavez family worked tirelessly in the fields after their own family’s land was sold by the local authorities.
Start of Activism
After spending some years in the U.S. Navy, Cesar Chavez started working various jobs, such as apricot picking and lumber handling. All of these various working environments gave Cesar first-hand experiences of the unjust working conditions for immigrant laborers. While working in the lumber industry, he met two activists that would open his eyes to how to make a change: Fred Ross and Father Donald McDonnell. These men, along with the non-violent protests of Mahatma Gandhi, set the foundation for Cesar’s later work.
Chavez had the opportunity to work with Ross and McDonnell for about 10 years with their social projects, and in 1962 Cesar established the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). Three years later, this group merged with the Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee to create the United Farm Workers.
One of Chavez’s most memorable acts was joining with the Delano Grape Strike in the late 1960s to protest unfair wages.
“La lucha no se trata de uvas o lechuga. Se trata siempre de personas.”
The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.
This form of non-violent protesting was just the start of Chavez’s peaceful protesting. For the rest of his life, Cesar dedicated himself to hunger strikes, boycotts, and protests for equality among laborers. His efforts were successful in provoking reforms, such as the Agricultural Labor Relations Act in California. At 66, Cesar passed away, most likely due to complications caused by his fasts. However, his legacy still lives on.
Commemoration of Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez has received numerous acknowledgments and awards for his tireless efforts fighting for the rights and equality of agricultural workers. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, appeared on a stamp, and many navy ships, parks, schools, and buildings have been named for him.
In addition, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, the Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged in 1973, and the Pacem in Terris Award in 1992. Because of the great impact he had in multiple states, he has been celebrated for years in the southwest. However, in 2014, President Obama declared Cesar’s birthday a national holiday.
Cesar Chavez Day
The greatest commemoration given to Cesar was a national holiday in his honor. Cesar Chavez Day has been celebrated in the United States now for six years, and it is a great way to remember everything he worked towards.
On this holiday, many people celebrate Cesar Chavez by remembering his legacies and achievements. Others, such as current social and civil rights activists, take the opportunity to analyze how far we have come since Cesar’s time and what we still need to change.
Cesar Chavez Day is the perfect time to honor the past and reflect on what you can do today to bring about equality and justice for the voiceless. In the words of Cesar Chavez himself,
“La verdadera educación debe consistir en la elaboración de la bondad y el mejor de nuestros propios estudiantes. ¿Qué mejores libros puede haber que el libro de la humanidad?
Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?”
How Can You Celebrate Cesar Chavez Day?
Even if you do not live in the Southwest where Cesar lived and worked, you can still celebrate Cesar Chavez Day! For example, you can reflect on what he worked so hard to achieve: equality and civil rights for everyone. To bridge the gap between different cultural groups in the United States and achieve unity, it is important to learn about the cultures that surround us.
“La preservación de la propia cultura no requiere desprecio o falta de respeto hacia otras culturas.
Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”
Another way to do that is to learn Spanish. As a Mexican American, Chavez spoke both English and Spanish, which gave him insight into both cultures. To understand the needs of the Latino community, it is imperative that you understand their culture and where they come from. As Cesar put it,
“Si realmente quieres hacer un amigo, ir a la casa de alguien y cenaré con él… las personas que le dan su comida le dan su corazón.”
If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.
Make an Impact by Learning Spanish
To share with friends and connect on a deep level, you need to be able to speak the person’s language! The Latino community is the second-largest minority group in the United States, so to get involved in fighting for their rights and understanding their needs, you need to understand some Spanish. Why not start by taking a free Spanish class with us? Our teachers are all native Spanish speakers, and they not only provide excellent explanations of Spanish language concepts, but they also give you great insight into the Latino culture. Try talking to one of our teachers about Cesar Chavez Day and what you can do to celebrate this holiday in your school or community. ¡Feliz día de Cesar Chavez!
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