Cheat Sheet: Who is Cesar Chavez

March 31st honors Cesar Chavez, a Mexican American labor activist who was a key voice for migrant farm workers. Inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi’s use of non-violence for a positive change, Chavez was able to create a movement that gained national attention during his lifetime.

We’ve put together a cheat sheet on everything you need to know about the civil rights leader.

  • He was born on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Ariz. and named for his grandfather Cesario.
  • In 1939 Chavez, along with his family, moved to San Jose, Calif. They lived in a barrio (neighborhood) called Sal Si Puedes, “Get Out if You Can.”
  • He believed the only way to escape the circle of poverty was to work his way up and send his kids to college.
  • Chavez and his family worked the fields of California, from Brawley to Oxnard, King City, Salinas, among many others.
  • He didn’t like school growing up—the teachers only spoke English and Spanish was forbidden in school.
  • Chavez, along with his brother Richard, attended 37 schools. At the time, he felt that education had nothing to do with a farmer's way of life. However, education became his passion later in life.
  • At age 19, he joined the U.S. Navy, which was segregated in 1946. He served for two years.

The movement he started:

  • In 1962 Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association. It later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).
  • The UFW eagle (created in 1962) would grace handmade red flags, giving courage to farm workers.
  • "A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride . . . When people see it they know it means dignity," said Chavez.
  • He brought to light the struggles of farm workers. Advocating for better pay and safer working conditions.
  • This was the beginning of “La Causa,” a cause that was supported by organized labor, religious groups, minorities, and students. He trained union workers to use the boycott and picket as their weapon.
  • Chavez is known for his nonviolent tactics, which included the Delano grape strike, his fasts that focused national attention on farm workers’ problems, and the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966.

His death:

  • Chavez died peacefully in his sleep on April 23, 1993 near Yuma, Ariz.
  • On April 29, 1993, more than 50,000 mourners came to honor Chavez at the site of his first public fast in 1968 and his last in 1988.
  • This was the largest funeral of any labor leader in U.S. history. His body was taken to La Paz, the UFW’s California headquarters. He was laid to rest in front of his office, near a bed of roses.
  • At a White House ceremony on Aug. 8, 1994, his widow Helen Chavez accepted the Medal of Freedom for her late husband from President Clinton.


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