California celebrates Chavez’s legacy

by Melissa Lau
Features Editor

Every person makes a difference, but it takes someone with passion in his or her heart to make a change.

Last Monday was Cesar Chavez Day, a statewide celebrated holiday. April 1st has been designated Cesar Chavez Day because his birthday is in the month of March. The Cesar Chavez state holiday bill was signed into law in 2000 by Gov. Gray Davis. The bill provides $5 million for AmeriCorps and the California Conservation Corps.

Cesar Estrada Chavez, one of six children, was born on March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Ariz. His parents, Librado Chavez and Juana Estrada, lived on a farm, that they eventually lost during the depression.

Because of such a great loss, in 1938, Chavez and his family went to work as migrant workers with approximately 300,000 others. They traveled to different crop fields to pick fruit throughout the state, depending on which crops were in season.

In addition to low pay, workers often slept in their cars or trucks to avoid housing. Although they lived in temporary housing, field workers lived in overcrowded homes that lacked bathrooms, electricity and running water.

Because of the constant moving to different areas, many children of migrant worker families were neglected by teachers who figured it was of no use to start teaching children who were not going to stay.

Because of this, many children did not learn how to read and write.

In 1944, Chavez joined the United States Navy and when he returned to California four years later, he married Helen Fabela. Together they began to teach migrant workers how to read and write, in hope these people would take the test to become U.S. citizens.

In 1952 Chavez met Fred Ross, an organizer for the Community Service Organization while picking apricots near San Jose. Chavez became interested and joined Ross’ cause. He began as a part-time organizer for the CSO. He worked in the fields during the day and helped farm workers register to vote at night. He became so involved with the organization he left little time for his job in the fields and was eventually released.

After this, Chavez worked full-time for the CSO. He held meetings for field workers to notify them of their rights and coordinated voter registration drives. He organized new chapters of the CSO throughout California as well as Arizona.

In the early 1950s and 1960s, Chavez served as the director of the CSO. However, he felt the CSO was not dedicated enough to his cause.

He attempted to focus the CSO on farm workers’ rights, but they refused. Because of this, he quit his job at the CSO, and in 1962, he founded the National Farm Workers Association.

In September 1965, the NFWA, in cooperation with other groups, held a strike against grape growers in Delano, Calif. Through this association, Chavez gained supporters not only among workers, but among students, minorities and consumers as well. Two unions merged the following year and became the United Farm Workers.

UFW members took a pledge of non-violence in 1965. To prove its commitment to this pledge, UFW held a 25 day fast.

In 1970, the grape boycott convinced growers to sign contracts with UFW. However, things did not turn out as planned and Chavez ordered a worldwide boycotting action. Because of the amount of support for the boycott, California growers had little choice but to honor the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

By the 1980s many workers were members of UFW and worked under contracts that required better conditions and benefits. Factors such as higher pay, health coverage and pension benefits were included under the new conditions.

In 1990, Chavez visited ULV as a featured speaker and drew a capacity crowd to Founders Auditorium

Chavez died on April 23, 1993, at the age of 66.

A variety of events have and will happen in honor of Cesar Chavez Day. On Saturday, the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation will sponsor the Fourth Annual Cesar E. Chavez walk. For more information, visit www.ufw.org.

Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.

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