By Abby Carrillo and Ally Najera
Cesar Chavez was a Mexican-American civil rights activist who fought determinedly for the rights of farmers through peaceful approaches. March 31 is a date dedicated to recognizing and appreciating the movements of agricultural history, which Chavez initiated throughout the course of his life. His strong efforts including partaking in peaceful protests, creating a labor union, and inspiring other individuals such as himself to get involved. Chavez has given generations of Mexican-American people and others, the ability to find their own power to voice their demands for what is correct in the face of equality.
Born on March 31, 1927, Chavez was born in Yuma, a small town in Arizona. He was born into a poor family of farm workers. When he was 12, the family permanently moved to California, where Chavez began to believe that the only way to end the long cycle of poverty within his family was to get an education and work his way up to success. He and his family continued to work in the fields of California which included Brawley, Oxnard, Atascadero, Gonzales, King City, Salinas, McFarland, Delano, Wasco, Selma, Kingsburg, and Mendota. With exposure to this harsh life, he was able to channel his experiences into helping others in a similar situation.
Being of Mexican descent, Chavez faced a lot of inequality from an early age. During his time in school, racism and prejudice against minorities were prevalent, more so than today, although this discrimination is still present. Institutional segregation and blatant racism still existed within schools. The social pressure caused took a toll on how Chavez viewed education, as well as how he viewed injustice and inequality as a firsthand victim of both.
After graduating the eighth grade, Chavez began to work as a full time migrant farm worker. It was here where Chavez began to take notice of the shared experiences he had with other workers in dealing with hardships such as poverty and powerlessness. Up until that point, there did not exist strong or effective unions. He dreamt of an organized union that advanced the demands of farm workers, including conditions such as better pay and regulations regarding pesticides that affected farm workers’ health and safety.
In 1962, he created the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with his life savings of 1200 dollars. The NFWA later became the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA), which is now established as one of the first successful farm workers’ unions to ever exist. Creating everlasting forces such as these inspired people who work blue collar jobs to be treated the same despite the color of their skin or the circumstances they work under. As a result, people who performed farm jobs were provided with sufficient pay and fair work conditions.
Under Chavez’s leadership, migrant farm workers created more movements such as the Farm Workers Movement, which peacefully executed protests such as the Delano Grape Strike, a series of 24-36 day fasts that focused national attention on farm workers problems, and the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966. People of Mexican descent were able to find their voice and continue to fight for equal rights against those who tried to take away their basic equalities.