César Chávez (1927-1993), first president of the United Farm Workers Association (UFWA) and internationally respected spokesman for Chicanos and Latinos, came from humble beginnings.
César Estrada Chávez was born the second of six children in 1927, in Yuma, Arizona, as a third generation American to Librado and Juana Chávez. At the age of 10, César's parents lost their farm that had been in the family for three generations due to the Depression and a broken land agreement by a dishonest Anglo.
The displaced family packed up their old Studebaker and joined thousands of migrant farm workers who followed the crops from Arizona to California. Most of the time they lived in overcrowded quarters without running water, bathrooms or electricity. If no shelter was available to the workers, they would live in their cars, pickup trucks or sleep in the dirt.
Attending school and working part-time in the fields was tough for young César. He attended more than 30 schools and somehow managed to graduate from the eighth grade. That summer he became a full time migrant farm worker to help better support his family, since his father was in an accident and was unable to work.
Chávez saw first hand the terrible working conditions and compensation the farm workers received. He became passionate about doing something positive to help others improve their lives.
In 1952, Chávez was hired by Fred Ross who was an organizer for the Community Service Organization (CSO) mainly to help in voter registration and battle economic discrimination against Chicanos.
Chávez still held on to his dream though, of building an organization to help the poor, struggling farm workers. In 1962 he and Dolores Huerta founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), later to become the United Farm Workers (UFW).
Through tireless struggle and non-violence, Chávez built the UFW into a dues paying membership claiming over 50,000 members. The union's non-violent tactics such as boycotts, pickets and strikes produced amazing results. He also used his 36-day fast-for-life to bring badly needed exposure to the plight of the farm workers.
At his funeral in 1993, it is said that over 50,000 people came to mourn his passing, which was the largest funeral of any labor leader in the history of the United States.
As a testament to the life of Chávez, what could be more appropriate than the words of St. Paul: "I have fought the good fight to the end. I have run the race to the finish, I have kept the faith." May the seeds planted by César Chávez bring an abundant harvest to all those who till the soil.
"The end of all education should surely be service to others. We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and
forget about the progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others for their sake and for our own."