By Reeva Askar
Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American who fought for the rights of farmworkers. In 2014, the government commemorated his work with a federal holiday celebrating his achievements on March 31. Granada Hills Charter (GHC) first honored the holiday in 2019.
“On Cesar Chavez Day, we celebrate one of America’s greatest champions for social justice,” President Barack Obama said in a presidential proclamation in 2014. “Cesar Chavez devoted his life to correcting injustices [to farmworkers], to reminding us that every job has dignity, every life has value, and everyone, no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from, should have the chance to get ahead.”
In 1947, Chavez joined the National Farm Labor Union, which used to be the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. Fifteen years later, in 1962, Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and other Chicano activists founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).
UFW defended the rights of farm workers by using nonviolent tactics that were based on Catholic teachings, Chicano identity, and civil rights rhetoric established by African American leaders in other parts of the country.
The symbol of UFW is very important. It is an Aztec eagle known as The Eagle Mark. Chavez’s brother Richard Chavez created the symbol specifically so that anyone could easily duplicate it. The Chavez brothers specifically chose colors red, white, and black because they would stand out and be visible to help with identification during protests and marches. The symbol is also very rooted in Latin culture, which would relate to the migrant farm workers he sought to unionize.
In 1965, Chavez started leading a strike, which lasted for five years around Delano, California. Chavez organized farm workers to strike against the grape growers. They sought both wage increases and piece rates for each box of grapes harvested.
“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.” Chavez said, explaining that the strike he led wasn’t just for the fact of the grapes it was for what the workers should be getting because it’s what they deserved.
This movement was called The Farm Workers Movement. This movement specifically gave the farm workers rights and ensured better pay and working and living conditions. The movement has benefitted 2.5 million farm workers today.
Chavez led marches, protests, and hunger strikes that brought awareness to the injustice of how farm workers were treated. This was a group of people who were not allowed to have their voices heard until Chavez worked to give it back to them.
Chavez continues to be an inspiration to all Americans. His motto, “Si se puede,” which means “Yes we can,” teaches all of us that we have the power to make change, that we are all capable of fighting to make a difference.