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Cesar Chavez Legacy: It all started with a vision

"He had this idea."
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Posted at 11:56 AM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 14:56:19-04

DELANO, Calif. (KERO) — Ahead of Wednesday's Day of Action 23ABC is taking an in-depth look at Cesar Chavez's legacy and his contributions to the day-to-day life of farmworkers across the country.

Cesar Chavez's contributions to social activism and labor laws for farmworkers are some of his biggest accomplishments and it all started with a vision.

Cesar Chavez
President George Meany listened as Cesar Chavez, head of the United Farm workers union, addressed the AFL-CIO national convention being held at the Civic Center in San Francisco, California Thursday, Oct. 2, 1975. In a sharp attack against the Teamsters, Meany charged that despite California’s new farm labor law the Teamsters and growers are continuing to conspire against Chavez’ United Farm workers Union. (AP Photo/WJZ)

"He had this idea that the poorest of the poor, the least educated amongst of us can take on one of the biggest and most powerful industries and prevail."

And that would slowly become a reality for a young Cesar Chavez who would become one of the most renowned labor leaders in the country, improving the working conditions and treatment of farmworkers across the country. But as his son Paul Chavez points out the journey was an uphill battle.

Cesar Chavez
FILE - In this March 7, 1979, file photo, United Farm Workers President Cesar Chavez talks to striking Salinas Valley farmworkers during a large rally in Salinas, Calif. California and several other states will honor Chavez by closing schools and state offices Friday, March 31,. 2017, the 90th anniversary of the birth of a man who went from a grape and cotton picker to an enduring hero for laborers, Latinos and justice seekers of all kinds. Farmworkers in four states plan to march Saturday and Sunday in honor of Chavez, who died in 1993, and in protest of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

"Every attempt to organize farmworkers for 100 years before him, have been brutally crushed."

Chavez would use that as fuel. He established the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which would become United Farm Workers (UFW).

The Day of Action was declared an official federal holiday back in 2014 under then-President Barack Obama. On the day people across the nation come together to focus on equality for farmworkers and all that Chavez fought for during his life here in the Central Valley. Wednesday First Lady Jill Biden will make her first visit to Kern County to honor Cesar Chavez and the Day of Action.

Several demonstrations, marches, and strikes would follow including the Delano Grape Strike of 1965 where UFW would join Filipino-American farmworkers in demanding higher wages.

Then in 1965 Chavez and a group of farmworkers would march 300 miles from Delano to Sacramento.

Cesar Chavez
United Farm Workers Union leader Cesar Chavez, center, joins pickets outside supermarket in Miami Beach, Florida, June 20, 1973, protesting the market's use of non-UFW produce. Chavez had just finished a speech to the Communications Workers of America convention on Miami Beach. (AP Photo/Steve Starr)

"As the numbers started to build and as people began to learn about the plight of farmworkers, public opinion was swayed."

But Chavez would face some backlash in the 70s when he took a strong stance against illegal immigration as he believed it hindered the collective bargaining process during strikes. His views on this caused violence on the border between the United States and Mexico and many contracts UFW would be terminated.

Cesar Chavez
FILE - Cesar Chavez, civil rights advocate and United Farm Workers founder, is shown in this June 29, 1989 file photo. On Thursday April 23, 2015, the 22nd anniversary of his death, Chavez will get full graveside honors from the U.S. Navy at his memorial in California. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

"With that said, his views on immigration would change throughout the years. By the late 70s things had changed," said Paul Chavez. "When he organized the union, he made sure that his organization was open to everybody and membership has always been open."

Chavez's cause would prevail despite the setback. Schools, libraries, and roadways would be among the many things named after Chavez across the country. In 2012, then-President Barrack Obama established the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene.

Clinton Chavez Block
Washington Post cartoonist Herbert Block, left, applauds as President Bill Clinton awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the widow of Cesar Chavez, Helen Chavez, during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., Monday, Aug. 8, 1994. Clinton awarded the nation's highest civilian honor to nine Americans, including Block and Cesar, who founded the United Farm Workers union. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom a year after his death in 1993.

UFW spokesperson Leydy Rangel says his legacy will be carried out through the generations to come.

"Decades later after his death, we're still fighting for the very rights that we started the union, which is just making sure that farmworkers and their families have dignity."

Wednesday would have been Chavez's 94th birthday. It's considered a federal commemorative holiday in many states and it's a day that First Lady Jill Biden and Governor Gavin Newsom are going to celebrate here in Kern County.

Biden is scheduled to arrive at Meadows Field Airport around 1 p.m. Wednesday. Then she will travel to Delano to visit the Forty Acres. While she's there she will meet with the Cesar Chavez Foundation, United Farm Workers, and the UFW Foundation to participate in a Day of Action. Governor Gavin Newsom and his wife will also travel to Delano to take part in the day.