March 31st is a State Holiday in California and optional in Colorado and Texas. It is a holiday that honors Cesar Chavez, a great social justice leader and establishes this day as one that promotes service to the community. Earlier I wrote about the connection of Cesar Chavez and the UFW to our family.
On Monday, March 26, 2012 Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, hosted the Induction of the Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement into the Labor Hall of Honor and the naming of the César E. Chávez Memorial Auditorium in Washington, D.C. Michael Peña, actor and star of the upcoming film “Chávez,” served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
The Induction of the Pioneers of the Farm Worker Movement publicly recognized and honored collective, broad-based action in the area of social and worker justice. This year the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) will celebrate its 50th Anniversary.
The strength of their collective action led to such accomplishments
- The abolishment of the short handled hoe that crippled generations of farm workers.
- Unemployment, disability and workers’ compensation benefits for farm workers;
- Establishment of labor contracts with employers that require rest periods,
- Toilets in the fields,
- Clean drinking water, hand washing facilities,
- Protective clothing against pesticide exposure,
- Banning pesticide spraying while workers are in the fields
- Outlawing DDT and other dangerous pesticides,
- Eliminating farm labor contractors and guaranteeing farm workers seniority rights and job security
- Creation of a pension plan for retired farm workers, a credit union
- and comprehensive union health benefits for farm workers and their families.
History about UFW Martyrs Inducted into Labor Hall of Fame:
Nan Freeman: an 18-year old college freshman from Wakefield, Massachusetts who gave her life while picketing with striking farm workers in central Florida in the middle of the night because of her love for justice. In Cesar’s words, Nan was Kadosha in the Hebrew tradition, a “holy person” to be forever honored.
Rufino Contreras: a 27 year old husband, father of two and a dedicated union activist who was shot to death in the Imperial Valley lettuce field for demanding a more just share of what he himself produced during the 1979 vegetable industry strike
Nagi Daifallah: a young Muslim immigrant from South Yemen who was killed during the 1973 grape strike after he gave himself completely to the union to escape the trap of powerlessness. Nagi immigrated to this country to escape poverty, only to rediscover it in California’s rich fields and vineyards. He learned English, could communicate well, served as a translator for UFW organizers and became active with the union.
Juan De La Cruz: a 60-year old immigrant from Mexico, a gentle man who knew firsthand the benefits of a UFW contract. He was also a grape striker and an original union member recruited by Cesar in the early ‘60s. Juan died two days after Nagi’s killing when shots rang out on a vineyard picket line and Juan shielded his wife, Maximina, with his body.
Rene Lopez was only 21 when he came home and proudly told his mother, “Here is my first union card. Now I am important. Now I am a man.” A short time later, grower goons gunned Rene down just after he voted in a union election at Sikkema Dairy near Fresno, which he and his co-workers were striking. Rene was young, but, as Cesar observed, “he had already felt the call to social justice.”
In case you haven’t read the official proclamation:
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
One of our Nation’s great civil rights leaders, Cesar Estrada Chavez came of age as a migrant farm worker, witnessing the injustice that pervaded fields and vineyards across California. Facing discrimination, poverty, and dangerous working conditions, laborers toiled for little pay and without access to even the most basic necessities. Yet amidst hardship and abuse, Cesar Chavez saw the promise of change — the unlimited potential of a community organized around a common purpose.
Today, we celebrate his courage, reflect on his lifetime of advocacy, and recognize the power in each of us to lift up lives and pursue social justice.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other visionary leaders, Cesar Chavez based his campaign on principles of nonviolence, which he called “the quality of the heart.” Through boycotts, fasts, strikes, and marches that demanded both endurance and imagination, he drew thousands together in support of “La Causa” — a mission to ensure respect, dignity, and fair treatment for farm workers. Alongside Dolores Huerta, he founded the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), an organization tasked with defending and empowering the men and women who feed the world.
As a tribute to Cesar Chavez’s life and work, my Administration designated the Forty Acres site in Delano, California, as a National Historical Landmark last year, forever commemorating the birthplace of the UFW. In May 2011, the United States Navy named the USNS Cesar Chavez in recognition of his service during World War II. And this month, we honor ten Americans as Champions of Change for their commitment to realizing Cesar Chavez’s dream of a more just tomorrow. Decades after his struggle began, Cesar Chavez’s legacy lives on in all who draw inspiration from the values of service, determination, and community that ignited his movement.
On the 85th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s birth, we are reminded of what we can accomplish when we recognize our common humanity. He told us, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” As we honor his broad ambitions and expansive vision, let us pledge to stand forever on the side of equal opportunity and justice for all.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 31, 2012, as Cesar Chavez Day. I call upon all Americans to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
twenty-third day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.
You don’t have to be a Californian to commemorate the spirit of this holiday. As an individual how can you be of service to your community this weekend? How can your actions uplift someone else, create a better environment, or make a difference?
Wishing you creative thoughts, blessings, and peace.