Chavez was born March 31, 1927, on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona
that his grandfather homesteaded in the 1880's. At age 10, life
began as a migrant farm worker when his father lost the land during
the Depression. Together with thousands of displaced families,
the Chavez family migrated throughout the Southwest, laboring
in fields and vineyards. Cesar left school after the eighth grade
to help support his family.
In 1952, Cesar was laboring in apricot orchards outside San Jose
when he met Fred Ross, an organizer for the Community Service
Organization, a barrio-based self-help group. Within several months,
Cesar was a full-time organizer with CSO, coordinating voter registration
drives and battling racial and economic discrimination in California
In 1962, Cesar
moved his wife and eight children to Delano, California where
he founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).
In September of 1965, Cesar's NFWA, with 1200 member families,
joined an AFL-CIO sponsored union in a strike against major Delano
area table and wine grape growers forging national support of
unions, church groups, students, minorities, and consumers. The
two unions merged in 1966 to form the United Farm Workers.
Cesar called for a worldwide grape boycott and by 1975 over 17
million American adults were honoring the grape boycott. It forced
growers to support Governor Jerry Brown's collective bargaining
law for farm workers, the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act.
From the beginning, Cesar Chavez adhered to the principals of
non-violence practiced by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. In 1965, Cesar conducted a 25-day fast to reaffirm the
UFW's commitment to non-violence. The late Senator Robert F. Kennedy,
D-NY, flew to Delano to be with him when he ended the fast.
In 1991, Cesar received the Aguila Azteca (The Aztec Eagle), Mexico's
highest award presented to people of Mexican heritage who have
made major contributions outside of Mexico.
Cesar Chavez passed away on April 23, 1993, at the age of 66.
More than 40,000 people participated in his funeral at Delano.
He is laid to rest at La Paz in a rose garden at the foot of the
hill he often climbed to watch the sun rise.
On August 8, 1994, Cesar E. Chavez became the second Mexican American
to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian
honor in the United States. The award was presented posthumously
by President Bill Clinton.