César Chávez: Latinos LOVE César Chávez born as César Estrada Chávez on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona. Chávez was a Mexican-American civil rights activist, farm worker, and labor leader. He is one of the founders of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, formerly known as the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962. César Chávez believed in overcoming discrimination and injustices with nonviolence. He was very spiritual (a devout Roman Catholic) and did not condone physical aggression of any sort. He believed in boycotting and peaceful protesting, not rioting. Any member who used violence as a form of defense was immediately kicked out of the union.
After graduating from 8th grade he didn't attend high school in order to work the fields and help his parents financially. He joined the United States Navy at age seventeen and described his experience there as the two worst years of his life. Chávez experienced racism in the military stating he was called a "wetback" and "brown nigger". After completing his service, he married Helen Fabela, who also became a labor activist and remains a well respected figure in the Latino community. The two had eight children. Chávez did not attend college, but did continue educating himself. He was an avid reader with an interest in books about philosophy, politics, and Ghandi.
Chávez was determined to make social change, ensure farmworkers earned fair wages, had benefits, and better working conditions. The Delano grape strike began on September 8, 1965 by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (mainly composed of Filipinos) who joint forces with UFW. When Chávez saw what the migrant workers were subjected to, he decided to help them. He publicly exposed how poorly the Delano grape growers were treating their employees.
His movement brought awareness where students, religious leaders, and Americans from all classes and races statewide supported his cause. Consumers stopped purchasing grapes costing companies millions of dollars in losses. The growers decided to sell their grapes in Europe, but Chávez traveled to London and apprised them of the unfair treatment of workers in the U.S. and that it didn't have to do with the grapes, but violation of human rights. Europeans backed his mission unlike former President Ronald Reagan who opposed the strike, sided with the oppressors and described the boycott as "immoral".
After 5 years, those heading the grape corporations decided to sign a contract and offered better services for their laborers. This wouldn't had been possible if it weren't for the support of Fred Ross, Sr., Jerry Cohen, Dolores Huerta and all of the people who volunteered to end people's suffering from Whites and Blacks to Jews and Catholics, students and lawyers, rich and poor. Let's not forget two other strong advocates—Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who fought for equality during these racially intense times and supported Chávez.
Chávez died on April 23, 1993 at age 66 in his sleep. However, his name and legacy continues to live with us. There are monuments and murals that honor him and even a movie titled, "Cesar Chavez" showing his journey, how he made history, and improved the lives of many migrant workers who came to America in search of a better life.