César Chávez Day celebrates the life of a civil rights activist who worked hard for the rights of farm workers. It occurs every 31 March, on the birth anniversary of César Chávez.
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César Chávez Day is celebrated each year to remember this man who changed the livelihoods of these workers and their families for the better. César Chávez was born in 1927 in Arizona and died in 1993. He is remembered as the visionary whose efforts helped found the National Farm Workers Association. He was himself a farm laborer, and he never forgot the injustices and unacceptable working conditions he encountered in those early years.
As a child, his family suffered a huge loss of property during the Great Depression. Some of this was due to César’s father being swindled of his land and the consequence was that his parents and siblings needed to work year in and out picking fruit, vegetables and corn to survive.
César grew up to realise that it was crucial that his own children were educated enough to step out of this cycle of hand-to-mouth livelihoods. César’s own education ended after eighth grade but, as he grew older, he did his best to add to his education by joining the navy for two years (which he deeply regretted) and by reading copious books on philosophy, economics and unions.
His work in civil rights involved organizing the Community Service Organisation (CSO) in the 1950s and creating the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) from the 1960s onwards. The NFWA eventually changed its name to the United Farm Workers (UFW) union and functioned to protect the rights of farm workers, particularly those in lettuce and grape farming. The UFW is still working hard today.
César believed in using passive means to achieve the goals of the union. He encouraged the successful, and drawn out, boycott of the consumption of table grapes. He participated in several fasts, one of which became a relay fast through many celebrities and politicians. And he fought in the courts for the rights of the workers for good pay and safe workplaces.
After he died, 50,000 people attended his funeral. In the following year, his wife, Helen, accepted the Medal of Freedom on his behalf from President Bill Clinton.