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Ceasar Chavez Biography

Since before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, race relations between the United States and Mexico have been less than great. The United States has a history of prejudice and racism. On a national level this sentiment has formed some legislation, and on a lower level it has formed the way many people conduct their lives. Mexican have been exploited for their work for decades. One man fought long and hard for his people and their civil liberties. That man was Cesar Chavez. Cesar Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona to a middle-class family. Cesars family owned there land and also ran a business.

When the depression hit in the1930’s, the young Cesar Chavez and his family left to find work in California as farm laborers because they had lost everything that they owned. This period of Cesars life was what formed the way that he would look at farm labor. Having never worked in the fields, Cesar quickly realized what it was like to be a farm laborer. Cesar was born into a politically active family. Cesars father was very active in his community in Yuma, Arizona. While working as a farm laborer, Cesars father joined many labor unions. In 1952, Cesar found a job as a volunteer in the Community Service Organization (CSO).

As a volunteer he would register voters by going door to door. Shortly after he started the volunteer work Cesar was made chairman of the registration drive. During the mid 1950’s Cesar became a full time organizer for the CSO, and recieved 35 dollars a week for his work. He was assigned to a voter registration drive in DeCoto, a town in Alameda county. This drive was very successful. The CSO made Cesar a statewide organizer. As an organizer for the CSO, Cesar fought the farmers exploitation of the Mexican people by questioning the legitimacy of the Bracero program.

In 1958, Cesar went to Oxnard, to support a local labor union strike. He found that the locals were upset because the braceros were taking their jobs. The bracero program began in Congress in 1942. Its purpose was to import seasonal contract laborers in times of labor shortages in the states. Apparently, the farmers would falsely claim labor shortages in order to import braceros. The wages that farmers paid the braceros was a lot lower than that they would have to pay the local workers. The farmers were also able to make their money back from the braceros by charging them excess for room and board.

Cesar combated against the farmers by organizing boycotts, sit-downs and protests. All of Cesars accomplishments got him the state executive directorship for the CSO. He served this position for two years. In 1962, Chavez proposed that the CSO support a union movement for farm workers. The movement was brought to a vote a vote and rejected. During his time at the CSO, he had met Dolores Huerta, a woman who shared his passion for obtaining farm workers civil rights. His plan was to fight for the rights of the migrant and resident farm workers in California.

To achieve this goal, Chavez set out to form a viable union among the thousands of disenfranchised farm workers. Chavez encountered many obstacles after the formation of his union and at the beginning of their strike. Aside from the fact that many of the workers were hesitant to join Chavez and go against their employer for fear of losing their job, Chavezs main dilemma was the growers themselves. Not only were the growers stubborn to their demands and did not want to hear what they had to say, but they would also simply hire Mexican immigrants as strike breakers.

Eventually, Chavez succeeded in organizing a union composed of both immigrants and citizens of Mexican heritage. On September 15, 1965 Chavezs Farm workers Association joined the Filipino grape pickers in Delano. They had begun a strike to protest low wages and bad living conditions, it was called the Delano Plan. Cesar made people aware of the struggles of farm workers for better pay and safer working conditions and sought recognition of the importance and dignity of all the farm workers.

It was the beginning of La Causa, a cause that was supported by organized labor, religious groups, minorities and students. That same year, the red and black flag with the UFW eagle was designed. Cesar made reference to the flag by saying: A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pridewhen people see it, they know it means dignity. Cesar Chavez had the foresight to train his union workers and then send many of them into the cities where they were to use the boycott and picket as their weapon, as Chavez was firmly against violence.

The marchers wanted the state government to pass laws, which would permit farm workers to organize into a union and allow collective bargaining agreements. Within months, Chavezs union gained national recognition. An important event that helped Chavezs union gain support from other unions and from farm workers was the termination of the Bracero Program, an informal arrangement between the United States and Mexican governments, as a program to provide Mexican agricultural workers to growers.

The growers liked the Bracero Program and wanted it to continue still after World War Two precisely in order to replace domestic workers demanding higher wages and because it made it hard for anyone to organize a farm workers union. Because of pressure from organized labor and other Mexican-American rights groups, the government cancelled the Bracero Program in 1964. The union striked against the grape growers and intentionally chose September 16, the Mexican Independence Day to begin their fight. Choosing this day over any other day brought together many proud people.

Banners of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, and other Mexican symbols became an integral part of rallies and marches. The Mexican and U. S. flags were prominent in meetings and strikes. In an attempt to expand their support from persons residing in other states, the union then made its way to south Texas and relied on many techniques to counter the growers importation of strike breakers. For example, in 1966, UFW organizers in Texas worked with other Mexican unions in order to gain support from the border crossers for their strike against the Giumarra Corporation, the grape growers.

The Mexican union, the Confederacion de Trabajores Mexicanos (CTM), organized a picket on the Mexican side of the border opposite Rio Grand City to discourage the Mexican green-card holders from crossing merely to work as scabs and several UFW supporters joined them. In 1968, the UFW undertook the same kind of activities with other unions in California. A friend of Chavez arranged for leaflets to be passed out at the border informing workers of the existence of the strike. He also got permission to place ads and stories in the local newspapers and to run public service announcements on Mexicali radio and television stations.

It was not long until Chavez gained the moral support of Mexican officials and labor leaders in Mexico. Cesar Chavez was so determined to achieve for his people the proper civil rights they deserved, that he was willing to sacrifice his own life so that the union could continue and that violence was not used. In 1968, Cesar went on a water-only 25 day fast. He repeated the fast in 1972 for 24 days and again in 1988 for 36 days. His reasons for fasting were to keep the self-respect of the people and to build a great union through a commitment to the struggle for justice through non-violence.

Many events precipitated the fast, especially the terrible suffering of the farm workers and their children, the crushing of farm workers rights, the dangers of pesticides and the denial of fair and free elections. From all the pressure bestowed on the growers from an international boycott against California table grapes, the UFW eventually succeeded in forcing the major growers to sign a historic agreement. On July 29, 1970, 26 Delano growers formally signed contracts stating their plan for vast improvement of working conditions for thousands of farm workers.

This was the first time in the history of farm labor that growers had settled a negotiated contract with a union representing migrant workers. During the 1980s problems arose and Chavez was once again calling for a boycott on grapes in order to get the growers to terminate their use of harmful pesticides in the fields and to get them to sign contracts with the UFW in order to do so. Cesar Chavez once said: History will judge societies and governmentsand their institutionsnot by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.

These words couldnt ring more true today than ever before. Cesar Chavez followed his heart and fought long and hard for what he believed in– freedom and equality for the disenfranchised. Not often does a man or woman, come along that is as charismatic, peaceful, relentless and pure as Cesar Chavez was. If perhaps one day, all people could see what he saw and feel what he felt, perhaps we would all be better off. In 1993, Cesar Chavez, still hard at work with the duties of the UFW, is recorded to have died in his sleep with a smile on his face.

He was 66 years old. Today, the UFW continues to exist and continues to fight for the rights of the farm workers. Currently, the UFW is facing off with U. S. senators Gordon H. Smith (R-Ore). and Bob Graham (D-Fla). Who want to propose a bill that will import more farm workers from outside the country. The UFW strongly feels that like other guest worker plans, the rights of these farm workers will be respected and wont be protected, similar to the Bracero Program.

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