Cesar Chavez

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Date: 2021
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Biography
Length: 1,040 words
Content Level: (Level 3)
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About this Person
Born: March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, United States
Died: April 22, 1993 in San Luis, Arizona, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Migrant worker rights activist
Other Names: Chávez, César Estrada
Full Text: 
Cesar Chavez Ending Hunger Strike Cesar Chavez ended his 36-day hunger strike, taking a bite of bread on August 21, 1988. His hunger strike was in protest of the reckless use of pesticides. Cesar Chavez ended his 36-day hunger strike, taking a bite of bread on August 21, 1988. His hunger strike was in protest of the reckless use of pesticides. Martin Jeong/UPI

Cesar Chavez was one of the most important labor leaders in American history. Born into a family of Mexican American migrant farmworkers, Chavez spent much of his early life doing backbreaking work in difficult conditions for very little pay. In 1962, he cofounded what would become the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor organization. Through his tireless efforts, Chavez led the way to improve conditions and pay for migrant workers. He helped to make life better for poor, hardworking people everywhere.

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Fast Facts

  • Chavez was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and used Gandhi’s idea of fighting social injustice through nonviolent protests in his efforts to improve conditions for migrant workers.
  • Chavez married Helen Fabela in 1948. Together, the couple raised a family of eight children.
  • In 2014, Chavez’s life story was turned into a movie called Cesar Chavez. Chavez himself was played by actor Michael Peña.

Early Life

Chavez, the second child of Librado and Juana Chavez, was born on March 31, 1927. At the time, his father owned a farm, grocery store, garage, and pool hall. Only two years after Chavez was born, the United States entered the Great Depression, a time when the country’s economy bottomed out and many people lost their jobs. Because of the Great Depression, Chavez’s father lost his businesses and the family farm. Left with nothing, Chavez and his family were forced to become migrant farmworkers.

Life as a migrant farmworker was very difficult for Chavez. Like other migrants, he had to spend many long hours in hot, dusty fields picking fruits and vegetables for very little pay. Further, Chavez and his fellow workers were often cheated out of their earnings by greedy farm owners who did not want to pay fair wages and knew they could easily take advantage of the many migrants who spoke very little English.

Because his family had to constantly move from place to place to find work, Chavez went to more than thirty different schools as a child. In the end, Chavez only made it to eighth grade before he dropped out.

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Timeline: Cesar Chavez

  • 1927: Born on March 31 in San Luis, Arizona.
  • 1937: Moves with family to California to work as a farm laborer.
  • 1944–1946: Fights in World War II in the US Navy.
  • 1952: Begins working for the Community Service Organization as a community organizer.
  • 1962: Founds the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).
  • 1965: Organizes a strike against grape companies.
  • 1966: Leads a 250-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, California, to bring attention to the mistreatment of farm workers.
  • 1974: NFWA becomes the United Farm Workers (UFW).
  • 1992: Leads a 1,000-person march to bring attention to the poor working conditions on farms.
  • 1993: Dies during a fast on April 23.
  • 1994: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Becoming a Leader

After serving in the US Navy for two years during World War II, Chavez returned home and went back to farming work. Before long, he grew frustrated with the fact that migrant farmworkers were still not being treated fairly and decided that he had to do something about it. In 1952, he started working with the Community Service Organization (CSO) as a community organizer. In this role, Chavez helped migrant workers with their problems and encouraged them to become citizens and register to vote. Over time, he came to believe that the best way for migrant workers to improve their situation was to come together as a group. Chavez tried to get the CSO to form a farmworkers’ labor union to represent the migrants, but CSO’s leaders were not interested. Still determined to make a difference, Chavez left the CSO in 1962 and founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Huerta, another former member of the CSO.

The Strike

Chavez first rose to fame when he took up the cause of migrant grape pickers in Delano, California, in 1965. Upset with their terrible working conditions and low pay, the grape pickers decided to go on strike. At first, the owners of the grape companies refused to meet the pickers’ demands and even threatened to use force to get them to go back to work. In response, Chavez called on Americans everywhere to stop buying grapes until the strike was settled. The strike continued until March 1966, when Chavez led a 250-mile march from Delano to the state capital of Sacramento to discuss the grape pickers’ concerns with government officials. Worried about what might happen next, one of the major grape companies agreed to meet the pickers’ demands. The other companies, however, did not.

By 1968, Chavez realized that he would have to do more to get the rest of the grape companies to meet the strikers’ demands. To put more pressure on the grape companies, Chavez encouraged people to boycott grapes until the strike was over. He also decided to go on a hunger strike to get people’s attention. Starting in February 1968, Chavez did not eat any solid food for twenty-five days. Many people saw what Chavez was doing and boycotted grapes just as he intended. Eventually, the other companies had no choice but to give in to the grape pickers’ demands. Thanks to everything Chavez did, the grape pickers got new health benefits and higher pay when the strike finally ended in 1970.

Chavez’s efforts during the strike drew the support of several major national labor unions, including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the United Automobile Workers (UAW). Afterward, Chavez merged the NFWA with the AFL-CIO. Later, the NFWA became known as the United Farm Workers (UFW).

A National Hero

Chavez continued fighting for workers’ rights for the rest of his life. He successfully organized a strike of migrant workers against lettuce growers later in the 1970s. He also led a second strike against grape growers over their use of pesticides in the 1980s. Chavez remained a strong supporter of migrant workers’ rights up until he passed away on April 23, 1993. In the end, his work made him a national hero who was admired by workers everywhere.

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Words to Know

boycott
To refuse to buy a product.
citizens
Members of a country.
merged
Joined together.
migrant
Person who moves from place to place in search of work.
pesticides
Chemicals used to kill insects.
strike
To refuse to work until changes are made.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|HXDJOQ936052520