Change the World.
Cesar Chavez Day.
Cesar Chavez, Mexican-American human rights/social justice activist and founder of The United Farm Workers Union. (Photo credit: the Apple “Think Different” Campaign, 1997)
Through his work, along with fellow labor leader, Dolores Huerta, and the countless others who were part of the United Farm Workers‘ struggle, Cesar Chavez brought international awareness of the unfair wages and inhumane living and working conditions of the people in the fields all over the United States who pick the bounties of food that end up on American tables every day.
“It’s ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves.”
— Cesar Chavez
2013: NBC news reported farm workers were fired for leaving the fields during a day unbreathable air due to heavy smoke and heat from nearby California wildfires.
In 1962, after 10 years of community organizing, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in Delano, California, with Dolores Huerta. The organization is dedicated to the rights of migrant workers, including fair wages, insurance and collective bargaining.
Chavez led an international boycott of California table grape growers, which became known as “La Causa.”
By the end of the boycott in 1970, 17 million Americans stood in solidarity with the farm workers — including my grandparents, who ardently boycotted grapes and lettuce for 15 years.
United Farm Workers: DON’T BUY GRAPES OR LETTUCE (1975). Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
Many political and civil rights leaders lent their support, as well, including Robert F. Kennedy, who was a vocal and active supporter, leading the rest of the Kennedy family to be strong supporters to this day.
Demonstration for the United Farm Workers’ grape boycott, midtown Manhattan, New York, May 10, 1975. (photo credit E.A. Schwartz)
THE HUNGER STRIKES
Chavez went on a 25-day hunger strike in 1968, attracting enormous national attention. The fast affirmed his movement’s belief in non-violence.
Cesar Chavez breaking his fast-protest with RFK in Delano, California, by unknown artist
“FAST FOR LIFE”
In 1988, Chavez undertook a 36-day “Fast for Life” to call attention to the health hazards farm workers and their children face by exposure to toxic pesticides (agribusiness planes have been known to drop pesticide spray directly on top of the farm workers and their children as they work, not to mention the hazards of breathing in and touching the goods for 10 or 15 hours a day).
By the 30th day of this fast, Chavez lost thirty pounds. He had kidney problems and muscle wasting, his doctors urging him to break the fast. Chavez died in 1993 at age 66, most likely caused by a heart arrhythmia precipitated by his years protest-fasting.
THE LAST MARCH
Joseph P. Kennedy II, on the left, carrying Chavez’ casket.
More than 35,000 people joined Chavez funeral procession in Delano. California —including my boyfriend, Abraham, who ditched class and jumped in a car with a friend and took the long drive from Los Angeles from Delano. Today, Abraham has a historical photos of the funeral that will be included in an upcoming documentary.
As life as in death, Chavez remained humble: his casket was made of unadorned pine, simply sanded down by his brother.
Behind the casket, marched his widow, Helen, and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy. Two of Kennedy’s sons, Joseph and Robert Jr., also attended.
Today, the struggle continues. Your awareness and action can make a difference.