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Cesar E. Chavez (1927-1993)
Cesar Estrada Chavez was one of the greatest labor leaders in the United States. He fought for a better life for migrant farm workers, founded the first successful farm workers' union, and was the president of the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO. Cesar accomplished this with a philosophy of non-violence.

Cesar Chavez was born on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927.

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Cesar's Parents and Grandparents
Cesar's grandparents were Cesario and Dorotea. Did you know Cesar was named after his grandfather? Cesar's grandfather was called Papa Chayo, and his grandmother was called Mama Tella.

In 1888, Cesar's grandfather moved from Chihuahua, Mexico, to the Arizona desert. He was seeking a better life for his family. They settled in the Gila Valley, near Yuma, Arizona. At this time, Arizona was a territory of the United States. It became a state in 1912.

In 1924, Cesar's father, Librado, married Juana Estrada. Like Cesar's grandfather, Juana was from Chihuahua, Mexico. Librado and Juana had six children. They are Rita, Cesar, Ricardo, Librado, Jr., Helena, and Vicky. Cesar was the second child and oldest son.

Librado was a hard worker. He farmed the land, ran a general store, and was elected the local postmaster. On the farm, they raised horses, cows, grain, alfalfa, vegetables, and watermelons.

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The Great Depression
In October, 1929, the Stock Market crashed which caused a severe economic depression in the United States from 1929 to 1939. This was called the Great Depression. During these hard times, it was difficult for people to find work, and many families had little or no food or shelter.

The economic situation was made worse in the Southwest because there were severe droughts. In 1937, Cesar's family lost their farm and belongings. Cesar was ten years old. Cesar and his family migrated throughout the Southwest looking for work in the fields and vineyards.

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Moving to California
In 1938, the Chavez family lived in La Colonia Barrio in Oxnard, California. The Chavez family became migrant farm workers. Migrant farm workers are laborers who travel from one farm to another farm, planting, harvesting, or picking different crops.

At this time, there were about 300,000 migrant farm workers in California. The Chavez family picked different foods depending on the season. They picked grapes, apricots, onions, walnuts, cherries, cantaloupes, cabbage, cotton, broccoli, peas, carrots, and beets. Their wages were low, and the work was difficult.

Migrant farm workers did not have permanent homes because they traveled so much. They lived in small, overcrowded, dirty, one-room shacks or tents. The housing camps were called barrios. They did not have bathrooms, electricity, or running water. Most of these migrant workers were of Mexican descent.

In the first year as migrant workers, the Chavez family earned about $300.

It was difficult for Cesar to attend school because his family was always moving. This was the same problem with children of other migrant workers. At one point, Cesar counted more than thirty elementary schools he had attended. School was also difficult because Cesar spoke only Spanish at home, and Spanish was forbidden in school.

In 1939, Cesar's family moved to East San Jose, California. They settled in the barrio of Sal Si Puedes. Did you know Sal Si Puedes means "Get Out If You Can?"

In 1942, Cesar graduated from the eighth grade. He was fifteen years old. His father had been injured in a car accident, and Cesar did not want his mother to work. So Cesar left school and became a migrant farm worker to help support his family. He worked in the fields full-time with his brother and sister. One of their jobs was to thin lettuce and beets.

While working in the fields, Cesar realized the owners and contractors exploited the migrant farm workers. Cesar spoke out on behalf of the workers for higher wages and better working conditions. The other workers did not voice Cesar's views because their did not want to lose their jobs.

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World War II
On December 7, 1941, the United States was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, December 8, the United States declared war against Japan, and entered World War II.

In 1944, Cesar joined the United States Navy. He was seventeen years old. He served two years as a deck hand in the Western Pacific. In 1945, World War II ended. In 1946, Cesar was discharged from the U.S. Navy. He returned to work in the fields in California.

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Helen Fabela
In 1947, Cesar joined the National Agricultural Workers Union. This was the first labor union he joined. A union is a group of workers joining together to seek fair treatment and better pay.

In 1948, Cesar married Helen Fabela. They had met in 1942. They lived in Sal Si Puedes. Did you know Cesar and Helen honeymooned by visiting all the California Missions from Sonoma to San Diego? Cesar and Helen had eight children and thirty-one grandchildren.

Helen shared Cesar's social concerns. They taught migrant farm workers to read and write so they could pass the test to gain U.S. citizenship.

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Philosophy of Non-Violence
Cesar began reading about St. Francis of Assisi and Mohandas K. Gandhi. St. Francis was an Italian monk who lived from 1182 to 1226. He devoted his life to helping the poor. Gandhi was an Indian politician and spiritual leader who lived from 1869 to 1948. He practiced the philosophy of non-violence. Cesar was influenced by both of these men, as well as the Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Cesar realized great men were those who set a good example, and he adopted the philosophy of non-violence.

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Community Service Organization
In June, 1952, Cesar met Fred Ross while working in an apricot orchard outside San Jose, California. Ross was an organizer for the Community Service Organization (CSO) and worked to help Mexican-Americans throughout California. Ross wanted Cesar to help CSO inform the migrant farm workers of their rights.

During the day, Cesar picked apricots, and during the night, Cesar was a part-time organizer for CSO. Cesar organized farm workers to vote and taught them about their rights. Did you know Cesar help register 2,000 workers to vote in two months?

Within several months, Cesar became a full-time organizer with CSO. He continued to coordinate voter registration drives. He also battled racial and economic discrimination against Chicano residents and organized twenty-two new CSO chapters across California and Arizona.

From 1958 to 1962, Cesar served as the National Director for CSO. This was Cesar's first regular paying job.

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National Farm Workers Association (NFWA)
Cesar was committed to improving the lives of farm workers. He wanted the farm workers to have a union because a union could help them receive better pay and treatment.

In 1962, Cesar proposed the CSO organize the farm workers. The CSO rejected his proposal. On March 31, Cesar resigned his position with the CSO, moved his family to Delano, California, and founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). It was the first union for farm workers in the United States.

Cesar was elected president and executive officer of the NFWA. Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla were elected as vice-presidents. Other important people in the organization were Manuel Chavez (Cesar's cousin) and Reverend Jim Drake. The dues were $3.50 per month.

Cesar traveled to dozens of farm communities in California to build his base of dedicated farm workers. His wife labored in the fields to support the family.

On September 30, 1962, Cesar and 300 members of the NFWA met in Fresno, California, for the first convention of the NFWA. They approved their flag and motto. Their flag was a red background with a black eagle in a white circle in the center. Their motto was "Viva La Causa." Did you know "Viva La Causa" means "Long Live the Cause?"

Cesar was a strong leader, and the workers began to demand fair pay and better working conditions. By 1964, the NFWA had 1,000 due-paying members. Cesar started the newspaper, El Malcriado. It was the official voice of the NFWA. By 1965, the NFWA had over 1,200 members.

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The Five Year Delano Grape Strike and Boycott
On September 8, 1965, the Filipino workers of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) went on strike demanding from the grape growers higher wages, better living conditions, and fair hiring practices. A strike is a form of protest when workers stop working until their demands are met and conditions are changed. Did you know "huelga" means strike in Spanish?

On September 16, the NFWA joined the AWOC strike against the grape growers. September 16 is Mexico's Independence Day. Cesar and the NFWA adhered to the philosophy of non-violence and asked that the strike be non-violent. Cesar used strikes, boycotts, pickets, fasts, and marches as forms of non-violence protests. In 1965, the strikers took a pledge of non-violence. Did you know Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. also practiced the philosophy of non-violence?

A month after the strike began, the NFWA began picketing grape growers and boycotting the buying of grapes. A picket occurs during a strike when workers stand outside of the business and persuade people from entering. Did you know a person who stands in a picket line is also called a picket? A boycott is an act of protest in which people are urged to stop buying from or dealing with a company in order to force the company to meet certain demands.

In 1966, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy conducted subcommittee hearings on agricultural labor. As a result, Senator Kennedy openly supported the NFWA grape strike and boycott.

The NFWA first picketed at a San Francisco pier where grapes were being unloaded.

In December, 1965, the NFWA targeted the Schenley Vineyards Corporation. On March 16, 1966, Cesar organized a march from Delano to Sacramento (the capital of California) to generate support from the nation and from California Governor Pat Brown regarding the strike against the grape growers. There were 75 people at the beginning of the march. On April 10, the marchers arrived in Sacramento. There were over 10,000 people present at the rally. It was a 25-day, 340-mile march. In 1966, the Schenley Vineyards Corporation agreed to sign a contract with NFWA. This was the first contract for farm workers in the United States.

Next, the NFWA concentrated on the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation in 1966. The Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation was the largest grape grower in the central valley. Before the election was held to determine who would represent the farm workers in August, 1966, the NFWA and the AWOC merged. The new organization was called the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). The workers chose the UFWOC to represent them. In 1967, the Di Giorgio Fruit Corporation agreed to sign a contract.

The UFWOC then focused on the Giumarra Vineyards Corporation in 1967. The Giumarra Vineyards Corporation was the largest producer of table grapes in the United States. Giumarra Vineyards Corporation tried to avoid the boycott by using labels from other companies.

On February 14, 1968, Cesar began his first fast to put a stop to the violence against the pickets in the Giumarra strike. A fast is when a person goes without food for a period of time. It was a 25-day fast, and it reaffirm the UFWOC's commitment to non-violence. U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy visited Cesar in Delano for this fast. When the fast ended on March 10, 1968, Cesar, Cesar's wife, Cesar's mother, Senator Robert Kennedy, and 4,000 people attended a mass.

Robert Kennedy called Cesar "one of the heroic figures of out time." Martin Luther King, Jr. also supported Cesar's fast, and King sent Cesar a telegram stating, "Our separate struggles are really one. A struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity." At the end of the fast, Cesar gave a speech, stating, "Our lives are all that really belong to us. So it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are."

The UFWOC asked for a nationwide boycott of all California table grapes to support the Giumarra strike. The boycott spread to Canada and Europe, and grapes sales decreased. May 10, 1969, was declared International Grape Boycott Day. The shipment of table grapes was almost completely stopped to the cities of Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto.

In 1969, Cesar organized another march. This march went through the Coachella and Imperial valleys to the border of the United States and Mexico. It protested the use of illegal immigrants to replace the workers on strike. Cesar was joined by Ralph Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale.

In 1970, Giumarra Vineyards Corporation signed the contracts. The strike against the grape growers of California officially ended on July 29, 1970. It had lasted five years. Did you know it was the largest strike in the history of U.S. labor?

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The Lettuce Strike and Boycott
Cesar wanted to help all farm workers, and he started boycotting all California vegetables.

On August 2, 1970, Cesar and the UFWOC called for a strike for lettuce migrant workers. On the third day, there was an estimated 10,000 migrant workers on strike. Cesar was arrested for violating an injunction against picketing. An injunction against picketing means the court ordered that Cesar and his group were not allowed to picket. Cesar continued to picket, and he was put in jail for 20 days. Coretta Scott King and Ethel Kennedy visited Cesar in jail. They are the wives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. King and Kennedy were both assassinated in 1968.

Cesar expanded his efforts across the nation by helping the Florida citrus workers.

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United Farm Workers (UFW)
In 1971, Cesar and his family moved to Keene, California. Keene is located southwest of Bakersfield. This was the new headquarters for the UFWOC . It was called "La Paz."

On May 12, 1972, Cesar began another fast in Arizona to recall Governor Jack Williams. Medical conditions forced Cesar to end the fast on June 4. The fast did not succeed in recalling Williams. However, it led to registering voters which later helped to elect Raul Castro in 1974. Did you know Castro was the first Mexican American governor in Arizona's history?

In early 1972, the UFWOC received its charter from the AFL-CIO, and it became a full-fledged union. In 1973, the UFWOC changed its name to the United Farm Workers, AFL-CIO (UFW). AFL-CIO stands for the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations.

On September 21, 1973, the UFW held a Constitutional Convention in Fresno, California. There were 346 delegates who represented 60,000 farm workers. U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy delivered a speech.

In 1973, the farm workers' three-year contracts were up for re-negotiation with the grape growers. This time, the grape growers signed with the Teamsters. The Teamsters did not represent the farm workers, and 10,000 farm workers in California walked out of the fields in protest. The strike began in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Many of the striking farm workers were arrested or beaten. Some were shot and killed. To stop the violence, Cesar called off the strike after three months, and called for a national wide protest of grapes.

By 1975, 17 million Americans refused to buy grapes. This forced the grape growers to support the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act. This act was supported by California Governor Jerry Brown. It was the first bill of rights for farm workers in the continental United States. It protected the right of farm workers to unionized and boycott, and it guaranteed secret ballots in farm workers' union elections.

In 1975, Cesar led another march through the Imperial and San Joaquin valleys. It was a 1,000-mile march to advertise upcoming union elections.

In 1977, the UFW and the Teamsters agreed the UFW would represent all farm workers.

By 1978, the UFW lifted the boycotts on grapes and lettuce. The UFW decided to only boycott selected labels.

By the early 1980's, tens of thousands of farm workers were working under UFW contracts. As a result, they were given higher pay, family health coverage, pension benefits, and other contract protections.

In 1982, George Deukmejian was elected Governor of California. The growers in California contributed over one million dollars to his campaign. The farm labor board stopped enforcing the laws of the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act. Thousands of farm workers lost the UFW contracts.

In 1984, Cesar called for another grape boycott. This boycott also included the protest of the use of pesticide residues on fruit. Pesticides are chemicals sprayed on crops, and the use of pesticides poisoned the grape workers and their children. The boycott was referred to as the "Wrath of Grapes" campaign.

In 1985, Cesar led a ten-mile march to protest Governor Deukmejian's farm labor policies.

In 1987, Cesar and the UFW called for another boycott of grapes to call attention to the danger of pesticides sprayed on the grapes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed five poisons used in pesticides might be dangerous to the farm workers' health. The growers ignored the EPA's position and continued to use the poisons.

In July and August, 1988, Cesar fasted for 36 days to protest the pesticide poisoning of grape workers and their children. It was called "Fast for Life." He ended the fast on August 21, and Reverend Jesse Jackson took up the fast for three days. Jackson then passed the fast to other leaders and celebrities. The fast was passed to Martin Sheen (actor), Reverend J. Lowery (President SCLC), Edward Olmos (actor), Emilio Estevez (actor), Kerry Kennedy (daughter of Robert F. Kennedy), Peter Chacon (Legislator), Julie Carmen (actress), Danny Glover (actor), Carly Simon (singer), and Whoopi Goldberg (actress).

On April 23, 1990, Cesar signed an agreement with the Mexican government allowing Mexican farm workers in the United States to provide medical benefits to their families in Mexico.

In 1992, Cesar led vineyard walkouts in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. This led to an industry-wide pay increase for grape workers. It was the first industry-wide pay increase in eight years.

Did you know Cesar never owned a house or a car, and he never earned more than $6,000 a year?

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Honoring Cesar
"Sí se puede" was Cesar's motto in life. It means "Yes, it can be done."

On November 12, 1990, Cesar received the Aguila Azteca (The Aztec Eagle) from the President of Mexico. This is Mexico's highest civilian award. It is given to people of Mexican heritage who make major contributions outside of Mexico.

On April 23, 1993, Cesar Chavez died in San Luis, Arizona. He was 66 years old. San Luis is near Yuma, Arizona. On April 29, more than 50,000 people attended Cesar's funeral at Delano, California. It was the largest funeral of any labor leader in the history of the United States. Cesar is buried in a rose garden at La Paz, in Keene, California.

On March 4, 1994, the UFW and 17,000 farm workers marched 340 miles from Delano to Sacramento. At this time, the UFW's leader was Cesar's son-in-law, Arturo S. Rodriguez. This march was a repeat of the march in 1966, and it demonstrated the UFW was strong and Cesar's dream of a national union for farm workers is possible.

On August 8, 1994, Cesar received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is the highest civilian honor in the United States. Did you know Cesar was the second Mexican American to receive this medal? It was presented posthumously to Cesar (given after his death) by President Bill Clinton. Helen Chavez received the medal at a White House ceremony. Six of Cesar's and Helen's children attended the ceremony.

In 1994, the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation was created to maximize human potential to improve the world by preserving, promoting, and applying the legacy and universal values of civil rights and farm leader Cesar E. Chavez. The headquarters are located at La Paz.

On September 2, 1994, the Cesar Chavez Holiday bill was signed into law by California Governor Pete Wilson. It designated March 31 (or the appropriate Monday or Friday following or preceding that date) as Cesar Chavez Day. It is a state holiday to promote service to the communities of California in honor of Cesar's life and work.

In addition, there are many schools, parks, streets, libraries, public facilities, awards, and scholarships named in honor of Cesar E. Chavez.

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