Why César Chávez Day Needs to be Remembered

César Chávez on the cover of Time Magazine 1969

César Chávez on the cover of Time Magazine 1969

César Chávez was an Arizonian, WWII Veteran, a father, husband, organizer, and a leader.

Chávez’ legacy as a leader among farm workers’ unions is honored Friday, March 31st, on what would have been his 90th birthday. On this day, the UFW martyrs also need to be remembered. These were men and women from Yemen, Mexico, and the United States. They were Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant.

The Spanish phrase: “Si Se Puede” (Yes, You Can) was coined by César Chávez during a 1972 fast in which the Mexican-American farm worker rights advocate protested a signed Arizona bill that denied farm workers the right to strike and boycott during harvest seasons.

From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.-

César Chávez

In 2012 former 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.

Thanks to César Chávez and the UFW the actions led to these 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.

Not many people know of the men and women who participated in and fought for the establishment of the UFW. They were inducted into the 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.”

César Chávez has a special connection to my county, Ventura, because he lived in Oxnard as a child and returned as an adult to organize protests and boycotts to secure better wages and working conditions for farm workers.

This is my mom at last year’s march:

Chavez march oxnard

Mom at C.C March, Oxnard 2016

Here are some old posts: Remembering Cesar Chavez and My Mother

A March Down Memory Lane

There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence.

I hope you commemorate the day with serving others, doing random acts of kindness, or teaching others about Chávez’ legacy.

And, if you’re interested, this year the César Chávez March is on April 2, 2017. This is a nationwide list of the #Resist #WeFeedYou #CesarChavez celebration march.



Categories: Cesar Chavez Day, Social Justice

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. Cesar Chavez I’m very familiar with, but the others I wasn’t. Thank you for remembering them, and for letting me know about them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I shed a little light about the other men and women who took part, at great sacrifice, in organizing a farmworkers union. No one does it by him/herself. I didn’t mention Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the UFW alongside Chavez. She’s still kicking up resistance at the age of 86.

      Like

  2. Thanks for posting this! I’m surprised César Chávez Day isn’t a mandatory holiday for some companies (though my old workplace had it as a day off).

    Liked by 1 person

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