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Cesario Estrada Chavez, who was born in March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, was one of the most influential Latino leaders in U.S. history. He was an American civic leader who was devoted to improving the quality of life for the migrant and seasonal farm worker community. He was known for coming up with the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), an organization he created modeled on the the Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights group that helped its members with tax and immigration problems. During his time with CSO, Chavez worked closely with famed union organizer Fred Ross, who showed Chavez the potential in mass movement organizations. Chavez, however, struck out on his own in 1962, when CSO refused his request to organize migrant farm workers. Between and 1965, he traveled across California talking to farm workers and putting together a new organization, christened the National Farm Workers Association (which would later become the United Farm Workers). By 1965, Chavez's organization, and the farm workers who supported it, were ready to take on California's grape growers in a strike that would last five years and give birth to La Causa, The Cause. Under Chavez's leadership, the strike had gone beyond demands for better working conditions and wages, it had become a passionate cry for social justice, as students, religious workers and other supporters marched with Chavez in protest or stood in front of markets and told consumers to "Help the farm workers by not buying grapes". The boycott of grapes caught the public's attention as did Chavez's fasting to protest the conditions in which farm workers were forced to work. After five years, the strike ended with the growers in defeat. Twenty-three years later, at 66 years old, Chavez would die on April 23, 1993 in Yuma, Arizona. Before Chavez passed away, a member of the union asked him if he would like to be remembered by statues and public memorials and Chavez said, "If you want to remember me, organize!"
Note: The source for the quotations and more on Chavez are here. Both text and website were contributed by Miriam Ortiz of Long Beach City College.
In a 2007 talk, Dr. Frank Barajas, an Assistant Professor of History, was asked these questions: "Why Cesar Chavez, why him?" "Were there some events in his life that created this type of personality?" The professor's answer is instructive.
He had the determination for a farm workers movement, for a union. Being part of a farm worker family he knew of the oppression that that farm workers experienced and he was very focused. He (Chavez) said, "People criticize me for being a fanatic." This is what he says during an interview, "yes I am a fanatic. I am a fanatic about justice. I am a fanatic for brining housing. I am a fanatic for just wages for people. I am a fanatic for education and no matter what you want to do in life and do well; whether it be an educator, a lawyer, if you want to do something well you have to be focused and be fanatical about it." So to answer your question, "Why him?," because he was real fanatical about his calling to be a union organizer. There is a saying "Si Se Puede," "It can be done." Somehow when you use phrases they kind of loose their power, "Si se Puede" really has a power, it can be done in light of the circumstances. There are chances you may lose but chances are if we try with fanatical focus we can win.
Note: Dr. Barajas's talk and more on Chavez are here.
It's a really short cut from YouTube, but it will give you a great sense of Chavez's quiet charisma and his belief in grass roots organizing. You'll also be appalled by the shot of the short-handled hoe, which Chavez helped make illegal for use in the fields. The short-handled hoe says it all when it comes to explaining why farm workers desperately needed Chavez's organization.
Last change made to this page: April 30, 2011