Understanding Cesar Chavez
Cesar Chavez Day, March 31st, is the birthday celebration of a farm worker, hero, Latino civil rights leader, and labor icon who, with Dolores Huerta, co-founded what is known as the United Farm Workers. California is the only state to create an official holiday to celebrate Cesar Chavez even though Chavez’s work was felt throughout the nation and continues to be so necessary today.
My grandparents, uncles, and aunts were migrant farm workers. They worked under extremely harsh conditions, traveled from state to state, had children in shacks, and lived in poverty while the landowners profited. Hence, Chavez’s work directly helped my family’s working conditions and helped them become politicized.
His slogan “Si, se puede” (Yes, it can be done) was not only inspirational and energetic for the thousands of farm workers that took part in non-violent demonstrations he led, but its lasting impression can be heard in many American grassroots organizing campaigns and demonstration chants today, and points to the relevance of his work to our current struggles. Even President Barak Obama used a similar slogan in his 2008 presidential campaign - “Yes we can.”
Chavez worked on many social justice projects including registering people to vote, fighting vigorously for workers rights, leading strikes and boycotts, demanding human rights and eating vegetarian in support of animal rights. He was a pioneer in the environmental justice movement by exposing the multiple ways pesticides harmed people and the environment.
And I celebrate Chavez because he was a part of a grassroots movement of regular, everyday people, who through fighting for basic human rights and decent working conditions, hit that deeper chord of humanity in lots of people. Chavez’s work driven me to become a lifelong public servant. His legacy showed that you can serve the people in various ways, so your avenue is open.
March 31 is the day that urges all people of California and the United States to reflect on the legacy of Cesar Chavez and commit to public service, community involvement, and taking care of each other. Serving the community and public can look many ways. It can look like cleaning up debris in gutters to prevent run off in to our storm drains and oceans, encouraging a cousin to register to vote and show to the polls, writing a letter to your assembly person to support the Farm Workers Safety Act of 2012 to require agricultural employers provide water and shade or be sued if heat illness occurs, or checking out the United Farm Workers website to get updates on issues affecting people who pick the food on our tables. It’s a reminder that you can do something – you should do something.
Chavez’s legacy continues and is thriving with local celebrations and days of service. So, on March 31st do something for someone because giving is receiving.
ALEJANDRO SOTO-VIGIL is the legislative assistant for District 7. As a native of the East Bay, Alejandro attended school at Laney College and the University of California, Berkeley. He also earned his J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law. Alejandro is a proud resident of Berkeley and spends his free time with his wife, 4 year old son, and 1 year old daughter! He currently serves the Housing Advisory Commission as Vice Chair.
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