March 31 was the birth date of Cesar Chavez, a farm worker, labor leader, community activist, and awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His name adorns schools and street signs across the nation and several states have declared March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. Were he alive today, he would have been 83 years old.
For someone whose life is so celebrated, however, not everyone is familiar with Chavez and his legacy. Depending on one’s geographic location, Cesar Chavez may not have been a household name, and schools may not have had textbooks with information about his struggle for higher wages and better working conditions for farm workers and the poor. It is likely that many people in the United States, if asked who Cesar Chavez was or what he stood for, would not have an answer.
This, of course, is not limited to non-Latinos — due to the many different cultural backgrounds that comprise the Latino community, those who are not of Mexican or Mexican-American descent also may not have learned about Chavez until they became older. The author of this post, a native Californian of Ecuadorian descent, knew little about Chavez until attending a Chicano/Latino conference in high school and learning from her peers of Mexican and Mexican-American descent.
Chavez is one of the most historic Latino figures in this nation’s history, and those of us who learn about his life and achievements must spread the word so that future generations may be inspired to persevere in their own struggles for fairness and equality. As many know well, the English version of “Si se puede” was the slogan for one of America’s most successful political campaigns, as it motivated a record number of voters, including Latinos, to go to the polls. This is not about politics, however, but rather about educating Americans about the life of a man who was not afraid to stand for equal rights and risk his life for la causa.
Please click on the links below to view websites that provide details about Chavez’s life and work. Feel free to share your own reflections on Chavez and what his legacy means to you.
Barbara Barreno, a second-year student at Vanderbilt University Law School, is NLLSA’s South Atlantic Regional Director.