Monday, March 30, 2015

Honoring Cesar Chavez

Tomorrow, March 31, is a state holiday in California, Colorado, and Texas. It is Cesar Chavez Day. And four years ago today, President Obama proclaimed March 31 of each year as Cesar Chavez Day nationwide, although it is not a holiday in the other 47 states.
 César Chávez, the Mexican-American migrant farm worker, civil rights activist, and outstanding labor leader, was born on March 31, 1927. He died in 1993.
In his Presidential Proclamation of March 30, 2011, President Obama said,
Cesar Chavez’s legacy provides lessons from which all Americans can learn. One person can change the course of a nation and improve the lives of countless individuals. Cesar once said, “Non-violence is not inaction. . . . Non-violence is hard work. It is the willingness to sacrifice. It is the patience to win.”
The President went on to say,
From his inspiring accomplishments, we have learned that social justice takes action, selflessness, and commitment. As we face the challenges of our day, let us do so with the hope and determination of Cesar Chavez, echoing the words that were his rallying cry and that continue to inspire so many today, “Sí, se puede” – “Yes, we can.”
The achievements of Chavez were also recognized the year before and the year after his death. In 1992, Chavez was awarded the Pacem in Terris Award, named after a 1963 encyclical by Pope John XXIII calling upon all people of good will to secure peace among all nations.

Then on September 8, 1994, Chavez was presented posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton. The award was received by his widow, Helen, whom Chavez married when he was 21 and with whom he had eight children.

There was national recognition of Chavez and his work much before the 1990s, though. In 1969 he became the first Mexican-American to have his picture on the cover of Time magazine.
Last year, the biopic film “Cesar Chavez” was released, and June and I watched it with great interest soon after it came out on DVD. Although panned by some critics for being too hagiographical, we thought it was a good presentation of Chavez’s life and work.
Chávez was born in Arizona, but when he was still a boy his family moved to California and became migrant farm workers. In 1942 when he was 15, César dropped out of school and became a full-time migrant farm worker himself. Except for two unhappy years in the Navy, he worked in the fields until 1952 when he founded a Latino civil rights group.

In the 1950s, Donald McDonnell, a Catholic priest who died in 2012 at the age of 88, introduced Cesar to social justice and the principles of nonviolence, which became the basis for his activities as a labor leader.
In 1962, Chavez co-founded what became, and still is, the United Farm Workers. (The other co-founder was Dolores Huerta, who will soon be 85 and an outstanding woman who also deserves to be honored.)
At the time of McDonnell’s death, Arturo Rodriguez, Chavez’s son-in-law and successor as president of the United Farm Workers, said,
Cesar Chavez tried to live the gospels and the social teachings of his Catholic faith every day, but his career dedicated to service to others all began with the lessons he learned early in life from Father McDonnell.
Cesar Chavez was not without his faults. Still, he did so much to help the impoverished and exploited farm workers, first in California and then across the nation, he is well deserving of the honor given him on Cesar Chavez Day.


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for the reminder of Chavez's work. It's important for me to be reminded of people like him, especially when I'm tempted by the luxuries of my affluent life to give up and quit the strain and frustration of working for greater justice.

  2. Thinking Friend George Takashima, who is a pastor in Canada, shares these comments:

    "The name 'Cesar Chavez' is well-known among many people here in Canada. I read and heard about him 'many moons' ago as I too was heavily involved in social justice issues.

    "Currently, I am a member of the Human Rights Committee of The National Association of Japanese Canadians (NAJC), and we tackle issues covering poverty, aboriginal peoples, elder issues et al. Your article on Cesar Chavez is very timely and a reminder to those people who may have forgotten him.

    "Thanks for this article, Leroy."

  3. "Thanks for sharing about Cesar Chavez. When I was in high school our Luther League, church youth group, visited and volunteered in a Farm Worker Camp and got to meet and hear Cesar speak. He was inspiring and seemed so very humble for a powerful leader." (Local Thinking Friend David Nelson)

  4. I just forwarded a link to this blog to my son, who also has a birthday on March 31. Chavez is someone I have always admired, and I like the fact that he and Nathaniel have a little something in common. Now if only it were not so difficult to get from good intentions to good results!

    1. That's a problem most of us have, I'm afraid.

  5. On March 10 a biography of Chavez by Miriam Pawel was published under the title "The Crusades of Cesar Chavez."