A CLOSER LOOK: Presidential Proclamation — César Chávez Day — farm worker to union leader

A Closer Look

Farm labor leader Cesar Chavez speaks at Boston University in Boston, Ma., Feb. 26, 1990. Chavez stresses the urgency of stopping toxic farming chemicals and discusses the dangers pesticides pose to farmworkers and consumers alike. Chavez calls for a boycott of California table grapes, the food crop sprayed more than any other. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — The White House issued a Presidential Proclamation on César Chávez Day, Wednesday, March 31, 2021, on what would have been Chávez’s 94th birthday.

In his time, César E. Chávez witnessed a booming economy that served those at the top, but left millions of hardworking Americans behind — and he earned an enduring place in history by standing strong for the rights and dignity of the working people who built and sustained our Nation.  Today, on what would have been his 94th birthday, we summon his courage and moral clarity to guide us as we face the ongoing challenges of a pandemic, a deeply unequal economic crisis, and a long-overdue national reckoning on racial and economic justice.  As we work to recover and rebuild an economy that rewards hard work and brings everyone along — including the immigrants and farmworkers he championed, as well as the essential workers carrying our Nation on their backs today — we have no finer role model than César Chávez.

The White House Proclamation (in part), 2021.

Chávez, born in Yuma County, Arizona in 1927, brought awareness to the struggles and work conditions for the farmworker. As a child, while in school, he experienced discrimination and he was known as a ‘dirty Mexican,’ according to San Diego State University’s Richard Griswold del Castillo’s paper titled, “The Legacy of César Estrada Chávez,” written in 2001.

The family moved quite a bit and he never graduated from high school. Before 8th grade, he had attended more than 30 different schools (Source: Library of Congress), as many migrant workers had to move where work would be available.

In 1946, he volunteered to serve two years in the U.S. Navy in a segregated unit. After an honorable discharge, he married Helen Fabela and they had eight children.

As an adult, he worked in the fields as a laborer, and in 1962, he formed the first union of farmworkers — the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), later called United Farm Workers of America (UFWA). Union organizer Dolores Huerta, who had a lot of experience in this role, played an important role, too.

Chávez and Huerta coined the term, “Si, se puede,” meaning, “Yes, you can.” This became the UFWA’s motto.

In this 1965 file photo, Cesar Chávez, a farmworker labor organizer and leader of the California grape strike, speaks from a Delano, Calif., union office. A New Mexico state lawmaker is proposing a state holiday in honor of the Yuma, Arizona-born Chávez, and the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chávez of New Mexico. (AP Photo, George Brich, File)

The NFWA, and other groups, organized the 1965 Grape Strike. Bringing attention to minimum wage laws and unemployment insurance that farmworkers did not get. The grape strike became a national boycott of California grapes. After five years, farmworkers were promised better pay and benefits. The U.S. passed the  California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975.

United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chávez speaks to an enthusiastic crowd in Los Angeles, Nov. 3, 1976, as election results showed a defeat for Proposition 14, the controversial farm labor initiative sponsored by Chávez. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The labor leader died on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona at the age of 66. The city is located in the Southwest corner of Arizona and at the time of his death, he was the city’s mayor, according to city officials there.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Chávez’s widow, Helen Chávez, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Washington Post cartoonist Herbert Block, left, applauds as President Bill Clinton awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the widow of Cesar Chávez, Helen Chávez, during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., Monday, Aug. 8, 1994. Clinton awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor to nine Americans, including Block and Cesar, who founded the United Farm Workers union. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

MARCH 31, 2021

President Joe Biden called for all Americans to observe this as a day of service and learning, “with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.”

President Biden placed a bust of Chávez in the Oval Office, so that no one who enters that historic room may forget the powerful truths his farmworker hands imparted.


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