The Story of Cesar Chavez – UFW
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the story of cesar chavezthe beginning
The story of Cesar Estrada Chavez begins near Yuma, Arizona. Cesar was born on March 31, 1927. He is named after his grandfather, Cesario. unfortunately the story of cesar estrada chavez also ends near yuma, arizona. He passed away on April 23, 1993 in San Luis, a small town near Yuma, Arizona.
he learned about justice or rather injustice very early in his life. Cesar grew up in Arizona; The small adobe house where Cesar was born was swindled by dishonest Anglos. Cesar’s father agreed to clear eighty acres of land and in return he would receive the deed to the forty acres of land adjoining the house. the deal broke down and the land was sold to a man named justus jackson. Cesar’s father went to a lawyer who advised him to borrow money and buy the land. Later, when Cesar’s father was unable to pay the interest on the loan, the lawyer bought the land back and sold it to the original owner. Caesar learned a lesson about injustice that he would never forget. later, he would say, the love of justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being but also the most true to our nature.
in 1938 he and his family moved to california. He lived in the neighborhood neighborhood in Oxnard for a short period, returning to Arizona several months later. They returned to California in June 1939 and this time settled in San Jose. they lived in the neighborhood called sal si puedes -“sal si puedes”. César thought that the only way out of the cycle of poverty was to make his way and send the children to university. He and his family worked in the California fields from Brawley to Oxnard, Atascadero, Gonzales, King City, Salinas, McFarland, Delano, Wasco, Selma, Kingsburg and Mendota.
As a child he did not like school, probably because at home he only spoke Spanish. the teachers were mostly Anglo and only spoke English. Spanish was prohibited at school. he remembers being punished with a ruler up to his knuckles for violating the rule. he also remembers that some schools were segregated and he felt that in integrated schools he was like a monkey in a cage. he remembers having to listen to a lot of racist comments. he remembers seeing signs that said whites only. He and his brother, Richard, attended thirty-seven schools. he felt that education had nothing to do with his farm worker/migrant way of life. in 1942 he graduated from the eighth grade. because his father, freed, had had an accident and since he did not want his mother, Juana, to work in the fields, he could not go to secondary school, and in his place he became a farm worker migrant.
Although her childhood school education was not the best, later in her life, education was her passion. the walls of his office at la paz (headquarters of the united farm workers) are covered with hundreds of books ranging from philosophy, economics, cooperatives and unions, to biographies on gandhi and the kennedys. he believed that “the end of all education should surely be service to others”, a belief he practiced until his untimely death.
joined the usa Army, which was later segregated, in 1946, at the age of 19, and served for two years.
in 1948 cesar married helen fabela. they honeymooned in california visiting all the california missions from sonoma to san diego (again the influence of education). They settled in Delano and started their family. first Fernando, then Sylvia, then Linda, and five more children would follow.
Cesar returned to San Jose where he met and was influenced by Father Donald McDonnell. They talked about peasants and strikes. cesar started reading about st. Francisco and Gandhi and nonviolence. after father mcdonnell came another very influential person, fred ross.
cesar became an organizer for ross’s organization, the community service organization – cso. His first task was voter registration.
the united peasant is born
in 1962, cesar founded the national farmworkers association, which would later become the farmworkers union, the ufw. he was joined by dolores huerta and the union was born. that same year richard chavez designed the ufw eagle and cesar chose the colors black and red. Cesar told the story of the eagle’s birth. he asked richard to design the flag, but richard couldn’t make an eagle he liked. he finally drew one on a piece of brown wrapping paper. he then squared the edges of the wings so union members could more easily draw the eagle on the handmade red flags that would valorize farmworkers with their own powerful symbol. César made reference to the flag when affirming that “a symbol is an important thing. that’s why we chose an Aztec eagle. gives
pride. . . when people see it, they know it means dignity.”
for a long time in 1962, there were very few members who paid union dues. In 1970, the ufw succeeded in getting grape growers to accept union contracts and had effectively organized most of that industry, at one point claiming 50,000 dues-paying members. The reason was Cesar Chavez’s tireless leadership and nonviolent tactics that included the Delano grape strike, his fasts that focused national attention on farmworker issues, and the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966. Farmworkers and supporters carried black eagle banners with strike (strike) and viva la causa (long live our cause). The protesters wanted the state government to pass laws that would allow farmworkers to organize in a union and allow for collective bargaining agreements. Cesar made people aware of farmworker struggles for better wages and safer working conditions. he succeeded through nonviolent tactics (boycotts, pickets, and strikes). César Chávez and the union sought recognition of the importance and dignity of all farmworkers.
It was the beginning of the cause, a cause supported by organized labor, religious groups, minorities and students. César Chávez had the foresight to train his union workers and then send many of them to the cities where they were to use boycotts and pickets as a weapon.
César was willing to sacrifice his own life so that the union would continue and violence would not be used. Caesar fasted many times. In 1968, César fasted for 25 days on water only. he repeated the fast in 1972 for 24 days, and again in 1988, this time for 36 days. What motivated him to do this? he said, farmworkers everywhere are angry and concerned that we can’t win without violence. we have shown it before through persistence, hard work, faith and a willingness to sacrifice. we can earn and maintain our own self-respect and build a great union that will secure the spirit of all people if we do so through a new dedication and commitment to fighting for justice through nonviolence.
many events precipitated the fast, especially the terrible suffering of farmworkers and their children, the crushing of farmworker rights, the dangers of pesticides, and the denial of free and fair elections.
César said about fasting, “a fast is above all personal. it is a fast for the purification of my own body, mind and soul. the fast is also a heartfelt prayer of purification and strengthening for all who work alongside me in the farmworker movement. fasting is also an act of penance for those in positions of moral authority and for all activist men and women who know what is right and just, who know they can and should do more. the fast is ultimately a declaration of non-cooperation with supermarkets that promote, sell and profit from california table grapes. During the last years I have been studying the plague of pesticides in our land and our food, it continues to cease, the evil is much bigger than I had thought, it threatens to suffocate the lives of our people and also the life system that supports us. holds everyone. this solution to this deadly crisis will not be found in the arrogance of the powerful, but in solidarity with the weak and defenseless. I pray to God that this fast is a preparation for a multitude of simple acts for justice. made by men and women whose heart is set on the suffering of the poor and who yearn, with us, for a better world. together, everything is possible.”
César Chavez completed his 36-day lifetime fast on August 21, 1988. Reverend Jesse Jackson picked up where he left off, fasting on water for three days before broadcasting the fast to celebrities and leaders. the fast passed to martin sheen, actor; Reverend J. lowery, sclc president; Edward Olmos, actor; emilio estevez, actor; kerry kennedy, daughter of robert kennedy, peter chacon, legislator, julie carmen, actress; danny glover, actor; carly simon, singer; and whoopi goldberg, actress.
the death of cesar chavez
Cesar Estrada Chavez died peacefully in his sleep on April 23, 1993 near Yuma, Arizona, a short drive from the small family farm in the Gila River Valley where he was born more than 66 years earlier.
The founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO was in Yuma helping UFW attorneys defend the union against a lawsuit filed by Bruce Church Inc., a giant lettuce and vegetable grower with Headquartered in Salinas, California. the church demanded that farmworkers pay millions of dollars in damages resulting from the ufw lettuce boycott during the 1980s instead of pursuing legal action in a state where the boycott actually took place, such as california or New York, the church “sought” a friendly court in conservative, agribusiness-dominated Arizona, where there had been no boycott activity.
“César gave his last ounce of strength defending farmworkers in this case,” declared his successor, ufw president arturo rodríguez, who was with him in arizona during the trial. he died defending their first amendment right to speak for themselves. He believed in his heart that farmworkers were right to boycott Bruce Church Inc. lettuce during the 1980s and was determined to prove it in court.” (When an appeals court threw out the church’s second multi-million dollar judgment, the company signed a ufw contract in May 1996.
after the trial was adjourned around 3 p.m. on thursday, april 22, césar spent part of the afternoon driving through yuma’s latino barrios that he knew as a child. many chavezes still live in the area.
arrived around 6 p.m. in san luis, arizona, about 20 miles from yuma, in the modest cinder-block home of dofla maria hau, a former farm worker and lifelong friend. Cesar and eight other ufw leaders and staff were staying at her home in a poor farmworker neighborhood not far from the Mexican border.
cesar had dinner around 9 p.m. and chaired a brief meeting to go over the events of the day. I had just finished two days of often grueling examinations by the attorneys at Bruce Church Inc.
He talked to his colleagues about taking care of themselves, a recent recurring theme with Cesar because he was acutely aware of the long hours required of him and other union officials and staff. even so, he was in good spirits despite being exhausted after a lengthy cross-examination on the witness stand; he complained of feeling a little weak when doing his evening exercises.
the ufw founder went to bed around 10 or 10:30 p.m. m. A union staffer said he later saw a reading light shining in Cesar’s room.
the light was still on at 6 a.m. m. the next day. that was not seen as unusual. Caesar used to wake up in the early hours of the morning long before dawn to read, write or meditate.
When he hadn’t left by 9 a.m., his roommates entered his room to find that Cesar had apparently died, according to authorities, during the night in his sleep.
He was found lying on his back with his head turned to the left. he had taken off his shoes and was still wearing his clothes from the day before. in his right hand was a book on Native American crafts. there was a peaceful smile on his face.
the last march with cesar chavez
on april 29, 1993, cesar estrada chavez was honored at his death by those who led him in life. More than 50,000 mourners came to honor the charismatic labor leader at the site of his first public fast in 1968 and his last in 1988, the United Farm Workers Delano field office on “Forty Acres.”
it was the largest funeral of any labor leader in us history. uu. They arrived in caravans from Florida to California to pay their respects to a man whose strength lay in his simplicity.
Farmworkers, family, friends and union staff took turns guarding the simple pine coffin containing the body of César Chávez. Among the honor guard were many celebrities who had supported Chávez throughout his years of fighting to improve the situation for farmworkers throughout the United States.
Many of the mourners had marched with Chávez during his tumultuous years in the vineyards and ranches of America. for the last time they came to march alongside the man who had taught them to defend their rights, through nonviolent protest and collective bargaining.
Cardinal Roger M. Mahoney, who celebrated the funeral mass, called Chávez “a special prophet for the farmworkers of the world.” Pallbearers, including crews of these workers, Chávez’s sons and grandsons, then carried their fallen leader, laid to rest at last, from the memorial park to Forty Acres.
chávez’s death marked an era of dramatic change in american agriculture. his contributions would be eroded and others would have to shoulder the burden of his work. But César Chávez, who insisted that those who work the land had the right to a fair share of the rewards of their labor, would never be forgotten.
As Luis Valdez said, “César, we have come to sow your heart like a seed. . . the farmers will reap the seed of your memory.”
final resting place/final reconnaissance
Cesar Chavez’s body was brought to La Paz, ufw headquarters in california, by his family and ufw leaders. he was buried near a bed of roses, across from his office.
On August 8, 1994, in a ceremony at the White House, Helen Chavez, Cesar’s widow, accepted the Medal of Freedom for her late husband from President Clinton. In the citation accompanying America’s highest civilian honor, which was awarded posthumously, the president praised Chávez for “facing formidable, often violent opposition with dignity and nonviolence.”
and emerged victorious. César Chávez left our world better than he found it, and his legacy still inspires us. He was for his own people a figure of Moses, ”declared the president. “farm laborers who toiled in the fields and yearned for respect and self-sufficiency pinned their hopes on this remarkable man who, with faith and discipline, soft-spoken humility, and amazing inner strength, led a most courageous life”
The award’s accompanying citation highlights how Chávez was a childhood farm worker who “possessed deep personal knowledge of the plight of migrant workers, and worked all his years to better their lives.” During his lifetime, Chávez never earned more than $5,000 a year. the late senator robert kennedy called him “one of the heroic figures of our time.”
Chavez’s successor, ufw president arturo rodriguez, thanked the president on behalf of united farmworkers and said, “every day in california and in other states where farm workers are organizing, cesar chavez lives in their hearts. Cesar Lives Wherever Americans Inspired Nonviolent Work for Social Change.”