When Cesar Chávez, born on March 31, 1927, witnessed firsthand the terrible conditions for agricultural workers, he decided he wanted to change how things were — and he did just that. For most of his life, Chávez dedicated himself to accomplishing better pay, benefits, and overall recognition of the legitimacy of agricultural work and founding organizations and committees that ensured the rights of agricultural workers weren’t being violated, like the United Farm Workers of America, which continues to be operative. One of the key figures in 20th-century activism in the U.S.A., his work is commemorated and honored to this day, and his legacy lives on. We’ll help you celebrate his special day right here.
Helping a group of people achieve rights and better living conditions is no easy feat, and Chávez always knew that. Undeterred by the challenges he knew he would face every step of the way, his dedication to doing what’s right showed us what we can do if we set our minds to it. Chávez was born Cesario Estrada Chávez on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona. His zodiac sign was Aries and his ethnicity was Mexican. He was the son of Librado and Juana Estrada Chávez, who were children of immigrants and named him after his paternal grandfather. When he was 10 years old, his paternal grandmother died, and the local government auctioned off her farmstead against his father’s will, making his family move to California and become farmworkers, as many did during the Great Depression. It was through this incident that young Chávez was first angered by the injustices that existed in the world. After changing schools many times because of where his parents’ work would take them, he left school at 15 years old to work and help his family. From 1944 to 1946, he served in the United States Navy until he was given an honorable discharge, after which he returned to farm work.
Chávez first became involved in activism in 1947, when he joined the National Farm Labor Union, with whom he would picket a cotton field and take part in a strike against a grape field. In 1952, Chávez helped fellow activist Fred Ross establish a chapter of the Community Service Organization (C.S.O.) in San Jose, California, and was soon voted vice president of it. When he was laid off from his job, he became an organizer in the C.S.O. and traveled through California to set up more chapters. He also worked to increase job opportunities for Mexican-American workers and increase voter registration. In 1959, Chávez became C.S.O.’s national director, leading efforts, like extending the state pension to permanent residents without citizenship and overseeing the financial situation of the organization, but he resigned in 1962. He then went on to found the National Farm Workers Association (N.F.W.A.) with the key support of fellow activist Dolores Huerta, who would go on to become his lifelong ally. He was elected general director of the Association and established both an insurance policy and a credit union for its members. In 1965 the N.F.W.A. organized its first strike, to make rose grafters who had approached them to get better working conditions, which succeeded.
In the same year, the N.F.W.A. joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to strike against California’s grape growers, which later expanded into a boycott. Chávez drew support for the boycott by leading a visible campaign of nonviolent resistance. During this time, the N.F.W.A. and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee merged to create the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee, which later became the United Farm Workers of America (U.F.W.). The strike ended successfully in 1970. That same year, Chávez led more strikes, this time to help lettuce cutters, and boycotts. Because one of the lettuce growing companies managed to legally prohibit boycotts against them, Chávez was imprisoned. His supporters protested this, and he was released soon after. Throughout the decade, Chávez continued to lead efforts to win labor contracts for farmworkers, always doing so with the help of strikes and boycotts. The U.F.W. achieved a major victory in 1975 when California passed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which permitted farm workers to unionize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions. In the 1980s, his efforts were also turned toward the dangers of pesticides to farmworkers and their children. Chávez continued his work to better the conditions of agricultural workers until the day he died, in 1993.
At the age of 20, he joins the National Farm Labor Union and begins his activism.
Chávez helps Fred Ross establish a chapter of the Community Service Organization in San José, California.
He is laid off from his job and starts working as an organizer for C.S.O.
He becomes C.S.O.’s national director.
With the help of others, like his later lifelong ally, Dolores Huerta, and his wife, Chávez creates the N.F.W.A.
As the general director for N.F.W.A., Chávez leads strikes and boycotts against grape producers in California.
Chávez’s N.F.W.A merges with the Filipino-American Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, creating the U.F.W.
Thanks to his work with the U.F.W., California passes this landmark legislation.
Why We Love Cesar Chavez
Chávez showed us what we can accomplish
His “Sí, se puede” says it all. Chávez believed he had to do the right thing, and that he could do it if he set his mind to it. His dedication and leadership were key factors in his achievements.
He didn’t compromise his values
While Chávez was willing to do many things for his cause, he didn’t sacrifice his values and beliefs. Early on, he decided that his resistance would not be violent, and throughout his life, he mainly employed the techniques of striking and fasting, among others.
Even after death, he is honored
In 1994, President Bill Clinton awarded Chávez with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for civilians, posthumously. In 2014, President Barack Obama proclaimed Chávez’s birthday to be César Chávez Day.
5 Surprising Facts
He inspired Obama’s slogan
Chávez and Dolores Huerta coined the phrase “Sí, se Puede” (“Yes, we can do it”) in 1972, which President Obama used as a line in his 2008 election campaign.
Chávez was a vegetarian
He said he stopped eating meat after realizing that animals also felt afraid, cold, hungry, and unhappy.
He declined a job from the President
President John F. Kennedy seemed to have offered Chávez the job of head of the Peace Corps for Latin America, but the activist turned it down.
He moved schools often
His parents moved to where their jobs would take them, so young Chávez attended a total of 38 schools.
Chávez has his own film
In 2014, a film about his life, titled “César Chávez,” was released.
Cesar Chavez FAQs
What does Chávez’s flag mean?
In 1966, the N.F.W.A. adopted a flag featuring a black eagle against a white circle with a red background. It symbolizes the darkness of the farmworkers’ plight, hope, and sacrifice.
Why does Chavez deserve a national holiday?
On César Chávez Day, Americans are asked to honor his life’s work and continue his legacy with service, community, and educational programs.
What did Chávez die of?
No specific cause of death was found after Chávez died, and it is believed that he died of natural causes.
Cesar Chavez’s birthday dates