Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Cesar Chavez

Labor Folk Hero Cesar Chavez

"Sí, se puede"("Yes, one can")

This saying - popular with sports-related teams as a “pumper upper” - is a motivational phrase used by politicians and in labor strikes in movies as well as rallies. Cesar Chavez, the man behind that saying is an iconic folk hero who dramatically impacted the lives of migrant farm workers.

Chavez was best known for his Latino American civil rights activism and strong lobbying for the American Labor Movement. His two-sided communication made him successful in publicizing a nonviolent yet forward push for the farm workers’ struggle. After his passing in 1993, his image grew as a symbol of struggle and success for the Latino community and his slogan "Sí, se puede" rang true around the world. 

Born in Yuma, Arizona, Chavez grew up in a family of six children. His family owned a farm and a grocery store, but lost their property in the Great Depression.  After many types of fallout with their home and jobs they eventually moved out to California to become migrant farm workers.  Picking produce year around he and his older sister Rita were responsible for driving farm workers and neighbors in bad conditions to the hospital.  

Chavez dropped out of school in the 7th grade to become a full time migrant worker to reduce the amount of work his mother had to do. After two years in the Navy, he married his high school sweetheart Helen Fabela and they moved to San Jose, California.

In 1952, he became an organizer for Community Service Organization, (CEO) a Latino Civil Rights group.  He trained under Fred Ross, an activist against police brutality, and began urging Mexican Americans to vote. Ten years later, he co-founded the National Farm Worker’s Association and by 1970 his strategies had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the middleman for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. 

Following his death the UFW decreased in numbers, although his work on behalf of unions and protective labor rights remained effective.  Cesar Chavez’s birthday March 31st is a national holiday in California, Colorado and Texas.

This Labor Day Weekend, we are grateful for this folk hero’s journey. Cesar Chavez’ sacrifices, bravery and achievements, in spite of difficult odds, shows all of us what can be done when one is fighting for justice.

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