An official state holiday in California, Colorado and Texas, Cesar Chavez Day commemorates the life and service of Latino activist Cesar Chavez. Although it has not been officially declared as a federal holiday, the current President, Barack Obama, proclaimed March 31, Chavez’s birthdate, as the date of Cesar Chavez Day. There are celebrations in his honor in Arizona, Michigan, Nebraska and New Mexico, and all Americans are welcome to honor Chavez’s legacy with appropriate community and educational programs.
Cesar Chavez was an American farm worker and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers Union. Chavez is the best known Latino American civil rights activist, and was supported by the American labor movement, as they were looking to expand to the Hispanic communities.
Chavez took an aggressive stand for the rights of farm workers, but his activism never devolved into violence. He had a public relations style approach and garnered nationwide support. Chavez persuaded farms to recognize the UFW as the premiere bargaining agent for workers by the 1970’s.
He was a symbol for grassroots organizing and labor movements, and after his death on April 23, 1993, he became an icon for the Latino community, standing for worker’s rights and liberal organized labor. His slogan, “Si, se puede” is translated into English as “Yes, we can” and is a symbol of positive reinforcement among many Hispanic workers.
The National Chavez Center is located at the headquarters of the United Farm Workers in Kern County California and is where Chavez is buried.
In 1973, Chavez received the Jefferson Award for Greatest Public Service Benefitting the Disadvantaged, and in 1992 he won the Pacem in Terris Award which is granted to who secure good will and peace among all nations. He was also given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Bill Clinton in 1994, which was accepted by his window. In addition to several parks and high schools, Chavez’s legacy lives on in many museums, halls, and community centers.
In 2008, when he was still a senator, Barack Obama proposed that a national holiday be declared in Chavez’s honor. Obama stated: “We find strength in what Cesar Chavez accomplished so many years ago. And we should honor him for what he’s taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation. That’s why I support the call to make Cesar Chavez’s birthday a national holiday. It’s time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union.”
Grassroots organizations continue to push for the institution of a federal holiday in remembrance of Chavez’s accomplishments, and now, as President Obama continues to support Chavez’s causes, often reiterating his important role in American labor causes.
Several educational institutions also support Chavez’s causes, and teach his legacy in their curriculums. A focus is maintained on his work with immigrants and farm workers, and how it extends to the modern world.
Rumor Has It …
… that Cesar Chavez not only became quite adept at performing the Chicken Dance, but also organized the chickens and taught them to dance.