Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: August 14 Team Log


Cesar Chavez - a man for the people.

Cesar Chavez was the founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO, which was the first successful farm workers union in the United States. This union has been very successful in increasing the wages and benefits of migrant workers by applying pressure on farmers through the use of strikes, boycotts, and political lobbying. Through his diligence and determination in the face of incredible obstacles, Chavez has become a hero to Chicano people and workers worldwide.

Chavez was born on his family's farm in Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927, where he spent the first ten years of his life, helping with the difficult job of maintaining a farm in the desert. The farm had first been settled by his grandfather in the 1880's, but during the depression the family was unable to pay the taxes on the property and it was seized by the government. So at age 10 Cesar was forced to move from his home and face the hardships of life as a migrant worker.

Like thousands of other Hispanics displaced by the depression the Chavez family had to move constantly from farm to farm, going wherever they could find work. Working in the fields, was incredibly grueling and even though everyone in the family worked from sunrise to sunset, often they barely had enough money to eat and travel to the next location. By eighth grade Cesar had already attended more than three dozen schools, and had to quit just so he could work to help his family survive.

As he got older Cesar began to realize how unfairly his people were being treated. Migrant workers were not guaranteed the same rights as other workers, Mural honoring Cesar Chavezoften paid only pennies a week, and since many could not speak English, they were often cheated by farmers. Since they had no insurance or benefits, if a worker became ill or injured they had no way to make a living. Cesar learned English from the Anglo workers he encountered, and from them he also heard which farmers would be fair and which would cheat. He learned about labor laws and unions and began to try to organize the other workers to ask for better pay, but many were afraid that they would be fired.

Cesar joined the Navy during the end of WWII and was proud to be serving his country. Once while on leave, he and his fiance were asked to leave a movie theatre because they were Chicano, and that day Cesar vowed that after he left the navy he would dedicate himself to making life better for his people. In 1948, he married Helen Fabela, and they moved to San Jose California where Chavez began organizing English classes for fellow workers.

In 1952 Cesar was offered his first permanent job, organizing for the Community Service Organization. It paid more than $300 a week, the most money he had ever made, but more importantly it gave him the opportunity to organize within the Chicano community, registering thousands of new voters and empowering his people to stand up for their rights. He worked for CSO for ten years until 1962, when he, Helen and their eight children moved to Delano CA and started the National Farm Workers Association.

In 1965, the UFW went on strike against the California grape growers, and began a grape boycott which would last for ten years. With the support of over 17 million Americans, this boycott would eventually result in the 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which gave better wages and benefits to farm workers. By the early 1980's, however, this law was no longer being enforced and the boycott was re-initiated.

Cesar continued leading this non-violent struggle until his death in 1993. His efforts were recognized by by the Mexican government in 1991 when he was awarded the Aguila Azteca, whichis awarded to people of Mexican heritage who make outstanding contributions in other countries, and again after his death in 994 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal Freedom by President Clinton.

Today, the UFW continues struggling to improve conditions for farm workers, and the name Cesar Chavez will be an inspiration to workers all over the world for generations to come.

 

Today's Dispatches:
Team: A Taste of Mexico
Team: Right on, Free T-shirts!
Team: Cesar Chavez - a man for the people.
Monica: Food, Music, and... Pollution
Shawn: Overwhelmed
Silvia: Mexican Culture and Murals

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