Jump to main content

César Chávez Day

Cesar Chavez Day

March 24, 2022

César Chávez, Mexican–American civil-rights activist, practiced nonviolent resistance to improve the working and living conditions of farm workers in the United States. Having experienced injustice growing up in the early 1930’s, César Chávez saw his father work the land where his home was located in Arizona only to have it taken from them in a broken land agreement. Following this life-changing event, the Chávez family moved to California, eventually settling in San Jose where César encountered racism and segregation throughout his early years in school. After the eighth grade, César quit school to become a migrant farm worker when his father was no longer able to work due to an accident. While his formal education ended, César never stopped learning and educating himself through books.

His passion for activism began in 1952 as a grassroots organizer for the Community Service Organization (CSO), which was a Latino civil rights group in California where he worked to register voters and fight discrimination and eventually became the national director. Leaving CSO in 1962, César founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW). Working with Dolores Huerta, they traveled parts of California to recruit union members to work together to improve the conditions for farm workers. Joining the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), a Filipino-American labor group led by Larry Itliong, in a five-year boycott of California grape growers they were successful in accepting a contract with better pay and benefits for the farm workers. Eventually leading to the passage of the 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which established collective-bargaining rights for all farmworkers across California.

Following César’s passing in 1993, his widow, Helen Chávez, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on his behalf in 1994, awarded by President Clinton. In 2014, President Obama established a federal commemorative holiday in honor of César Chávez celebrated on March 31, the day of his birth.

The United Farm Workers continue to fight injustices in agriculture including the use of pesticides, overtime laws, and garnering support for the Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act written to give farm workers more choice in voting in union elections in an effort to increase their voices through votes.

Take Action:

For additional education and personal development related to diversity, equity and inclusion, the following resources are available: DEI Education and Resources, DEI & Antiracism Resourcesfrom the UNC Libraries, the Education Equity Toolkitfrom the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and the UNITE workshops for faculty, staff, and students.