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"Cesar Chavez left our world better than he found it, and his legacy inspires us still. He was for his own people a Moses figure. The farm workers who labored in the fields pinned their hopes on this remarkable man."

- President Bill Clinton, 1994




Introduction:

Born March 31st, 1927, Cesar Chavez would soon become arguably the most well known Latino rights activists. Having come from a background of migrant farm work, Chavez realized that other workers like him were facing oppression and discrimination. He led many protests and marches, eventually forming the Community Service Organization in 1952 to fight for equal rights for Latino workers. Thirteen years later in 1965, Chavez helped organize his most well known project, the Delano Grape Strike. This strike allowed many people of the general public to support his cause by boycotting grapes, as they often came from fields where migrant farm workers were abused. This strike gained national attention and new legislation was passed. By the end of his life (April 23rd, 1993) Chavez had founded the United Farm Workers, an organization that survives today, fighting for the rights of all migrant farm workers.









Challenge – Practice:

Chavez’s practice was the act of community organizing. The internal good of this practice was Chavez’s ability to inspire those around him to stand up and fight for their own rights. As many of these people had faced a history of oppression and injustices, Chavez’s ability to achieve this internal good was extremely effective. Throughout his lifetime Chavez worked to bring people together to form protests and strikes in order to support those that were being denied their rights. He was an effective leader, as he was able to find ways in which people could support the cause from many angles, from physically marching to simply refusing to buy certain foods. He was also able to lead from the perspective of experience, as he and his family had grown up as migrant farm workers in California during the depression. People respected him as a strong leader with a steady, non-violent desire for change.

Chavez faced many personal challenges, beginning with his work as a migrant farm worker during the Great Depression. During a time of financial crisis, Chavez’s family lost financial ability to maintain their family farm and was forced to abandon the farm, looking for other sources of income. Following this struggle Chavez and his family moved to California to work for a large scale farming company, earning very small wages for long hours of work. Due to their race, they were treated as second-class citizens, undeserving of equal treatment. The American Library of Congress website summarizes the injustices that Chavez and his family faced:


“Because a large number of migrant workers were Mexican American, they also often faced prejudice, and their children had to skip school to earn wages to help support the family…Cesar Chavez attended about 30 schools in California as his family moved from place to place to find work. After the eighth grade Cesar had to quit school to support his ailing parents”(Library 2).

These injustices denied Chavez and his family the basic human rights to education and a living wage. The virtue that Chavez and his family most greatly embodied while facing these challenges and working to overcome them was courage: “This virtue ‘does not only consist in conquering fear and in withholding the body from flight no matter what the risk of pain. It consists at least as much in steeling the will, reinforcing its resolutions, and turning the mind relentlessly to seek or face the truth’” (Ruggiero 112). By refusing to give into their fear or desire to give up, Chavez and his family portrayed courage in the face of adversity. While many others in their situation may have chosen to take the easy way out and allow their challenges to control them, they instead chose to rise above these challenges, continuing to make a life for themselves as migrant farm workers, and eventually fighting for the rights of others in a similar situation. These actions required an embodiment of the value of courage.

As Chavez grew older and continued his community organizing, he faced a new set of personal challenges including acting as a spokesperson for a large minority class. At the time of these protests, the Latino population in America was treated with disdain and disrespect. Both immoral employers and governmental actions made it very difficult for people of the Latino race to earn a living wage and flourish in this country. Chavez fought for the rights of these people when very few others were willing to do so. He fought back against the government, challenging people to do the same. As a member of the minority class, he was not only about to make others listen to him, but to respect the rights of the Latino class as a whole.

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Pictured above: Male, Latino Migrant Farm Workers

Virtue:

The greatest virtue that Cesar Chavez exemplified through his work in adulthood is Justice: “Respecting the human dignity of every individual regardless of their heritage, social class, race or intellectual or physical disability. It involves giving every individual an equal opportunity to flourish, reach potential and achieve success” (Ruggiero 112).

Through his work, Chavez allowed people of the Latino class to be seen as humans deserving of equal rights as opposed to simply work objects. He gave a voice to a group of people that were being silence by the majority. He allowed the Latino farm workers to flourish, by ensuring that they were given a fair and complete chance to “reach potential and achieve success” as stated above. If Chavez had not completed this work, the majority class would have continued to oppress the lower class and deny them the ability to flourish. It is thanks to the determination of Chavez that people of the Latino class received the virtue of justice.


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Cultural Ill:

The cultural ill that Chavez faced throughout his life work was racism and inequality. Chavez worked during a time when members of the Latino class were treated in a slave like fashion, being forced to work long hours for very little pay. Upon entering the United States, Latinos were often seen simply as a means to greater production and increase in wealth. In this way, they were horribly mistreated and abused. The National Council of Churches’ report on migrant farm worker conditions summarizes these injustices:


“Immigrant farm workers do back breaking manual labor that Americans are reluctant to do even in times of high unemployment. In these times with unemployment at its lowest in several decades, this is even more true. The vast majority of farm workers are from Mexico and Central America where conditions of extreme poverty drives people to suffer the hardships of American farms in silence. Most estimates place the Mexican and Central American farm worker population at over 90% of all farm workers in the US. The fact that the vast majority of farm workers are non-white adds a dimension of racial and ethnic discrimination against them; not only in terms of employment practices but also in the relationships within the established communities in which they work” (NCC 1).

Chavez worked to bring this abuse to light and to challenge the blatant racism. He fought for the inherent rights of the Latino class, and pushed back against the racism they faced. He encouraged other members of the majority class to discard their racist notions and give due justice to members of the minority Latino class.


Follow the below links to track the Latino Immigration Statistics from 1980 to 2012:

1980 Immigration Statistics

2012 Immigration Statistics




Most Well Known Organizing Effort:

In 1965 the Delano Grape Strike began, led by the Agricultural Workers Union Committee. At the time, many migrant farm workers of Filipino descent were facing extreme inequalities while working in the grape fields. These workers requested that the National Farm Workers Association band forces with them, led by Chavez. Throughout this process, Chavez led the union workers and supporters on a 300-mile march throughout California, drawing international media attention. Actions such as this march drew people in, gaining support from across the country. One of Chavez’s greatest accomplishments in these efforts was his ability to discourage racial tension by urging the members of his Latino workers union to join forces with members of the neighboring Filipino workers union. Throughout this five-year strike Chavez was able to fight current cultural ills through embodying the moral ideal of justice and encouraging those around him to do the same.









Follow the below link to read of the accomplishments and governmental regulations that were inspired by this protest:

National Center For Farmworker Health

Standard of Excellence:

The standard of excellence that Chavez displayed was his ability to make it possible for members of all races and classes to relate to his cause and his struggle. Through protests such as the grape harvest, Chavez was able to unite upper class white men and women buying grapes in the grocery store with lower class Latino farmers picking those grapes under the same purpose. He made the focus of the protest so simple and accessible that many people felt as though they could contribute in different ways, no matter how large or small. This standard of excellence allowed for the protests to gain great strength and encouraged large-scale change to occur throughout the country.

Choice-worthy Good:

The choice worthy good that Chavez chose to embody was a leadership style and lifetime of pacifism. During a time of great hatred and internal war, Chavez chose to lead peaceful protests, refusing to harm others. He could have followed the example of other leaders such as Malcolm X, but decided to reject their style of violence and aggression, instead following the examples of Mahatmas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior:


“Some young male strikers talked about violence, about striking back at the growers who abused them. By fighting back they could prove their machismo, their manliness. Cesar rejected that part of American culture that, he said, “tells our young men that you’re not a man if you don’t fight back.” He had already begun boycotting table grapes, following the tradition of his hero, Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cesar also followed Gandhi and Dr. King’s practice of militant nonviolence” (UFW 1).

Chavez knew that the most effective change would only occur if he led with peace and chose to follow pacifist leadership practices.










In 2012, President Barack Obama dedicates a National Memorial in Chavez's Honor

Conclusion:

Throughout his lifetime Cesar Chavez provided a voice to thousands of people that had been stripped of their own voice throughout history. He stood up to injustices placed upon people of minority classes, providing a non-violent means to change for all to follow. He brought together groups of people that would have otherwise remained divided and united them under the same cause. Chavez worked to allow those around him to thrive and flourish as human beings through the moral ideals of courage and justice.



Follow the link below to sign a United Farm Workers sponsored petition to create a National Holiday in honor of Cesar Chavez! This action will allow many other to learn about the life and actions of Cesar Chavez as well as be inspired to fight for worker's rights themselves!
United Farm Workers National Holiday Petition


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Current Day United Farm Workers March

Bibliography:


"About America’s Farmworkers." National Center for Farmworker Health: About America's Farmworkers.

National Center for Famworkers Health Inc., n.d. Web. 06 May 2013.


Francis, Ric. Sí Se Puede. 2006. Photograph. High Country News. Google Images. Web.


Ganz, Marshall. Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California

Farm Worker Movement. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.


N.d. Photograph. Fair Immigration Reform Movement. Center for Community Change. Google Images.

Web.


N.d. Photograph. Modesto Peace and Life Center, Modesto, CA. Cesar Chavez. Google Images. Web.



President Obama Creates Monument to Cesar Chavez. YouTube. YouTube, 08 Oct. 2012. Web. 03 May

2013.


Ruggiero, Vincent. Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 112. Print.


States, Immigration To the United. "Immigration Statistics." NationMaster.com. NationMaster, n.d. Web.

04 May 2013.


"United Farm Workers | Cesar Chavez Holiday Petition." United Farm Workers | Cesar Chavez Holiday

Petition. United Farm Workers, n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.


Written by Emma Lane
2013