» César Chávez Day

César Chávez Day, a federal and state-recognized holiday in California, pays tribute to the legacy of the Mexican American farm labor leader and civil rights activist, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 in collaboration with Dolores Huerta—becoming the first successful farm workers union in the United States.  Moreover, César Chávez was a community organizer, a champion for nonviolent social change, education, environment, and consumer rights.  According to the César Chávez Foundation, Chávez’s motto was “Si se puede!” (“Yes, it can be done!”), and to this day, this simple but powerful phrase has inspired millions of people around the world.

In honor of what would have been his 95th birthday, here are several important facts about Chávez’s life.

  • A first-generation American born on March 31, 1927, near his family’s small homestead outside Yuma, Arizona.
  • At age 11, his family lost their farm during the Great Depression and became migrant farmworkers.
  • Finished his formal education after the eighth grade and worked the fields full-time to help support his family. He worked throughout California, laboring in the fields, orchards, and vineyards, where he experienced first-hand the hardships and injustices of farmworker life.
  • Cesar joined the U.S. Navy in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II and served in the Western Pacific.
  • In 1948, he married Helen Fabela, whom he met while working in the fields; they had eight children.
  • Cesar’s career in community organizing began in 1952 when he was recruited and trained by Fred Ross, a legendary community organizer. The latter was forming the San Jose chapter of the Community Service Organization, the most prominent Latino civil rights group of its time.
  • César’s dream was to organize a union that would protect and serve the farmworkers whose poverty and powerlessness he had shared.
  • With $1,200 in life savings, he founded the National Farm Workers Association with ten members – César, his wife, and their eight young children.
  • In 1962, President Kennedy offered to make Cesar head of the Peace Corps for part of Latin America. It would have meant a big house with servants and all the advantages for his children. Instead, César turned down the job for a life of self-imposed poverty.
  • He never earned more than $6,000 a year, never owned a house, and left no money behind for his family when he died.
  • César passed away peacefully in his sleep on April 23, 1993, in the small farmworker town of San Luis, Arizona, not far from where he was born 66 years earlier. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral services in Delano, the same community where he had planted the seeds of social justice decades before.
  • César’s birthday, March 31st, is an official holiday in 10 states.
  • In 1994, President Clinton posthumously awarded Cesar the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The U.S. Navy named a ship after him in 2011.
  • In 2021 President Joseph R. Biden Jr., proclaimed March 31, 2021, as César Chávez Day. Calling upon all Americans to observe this day as a day of service and learning, with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.