Every March 31 (his birthday) we celebrate César Chávez Day in honor of this inspirational activist and tireless fighter for worker’s rights. California signed first official César Chávez Day into law in 2000, adding yet another contribution to the venerable César Chávez biography — he became the first Latino and first labor leader to be recognized with a holiday. So far only about a dozen states officially observe it but, in 2008, President Obama proclaimed César Chávez Day a national holiday. We celebrate Chávez’s legacy with 10 lessons the world has learned from him.
1. Sí se puede! Sí se puede! (Yes we can!) was the rallying cry of the United Farm Workers (UFW). Chávez never gave up his fight for workers’ rights no matter how many setbacks he suffered. Obama used the English version of this motto as his 2008 campaign slogan and he was right!
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2. The power of passive resistance. One of the highlights of the César Chávez biography was his dedication to passive resistance. He was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s civil disobedience and Gandhi’s nonviolent protests to make statements using strikes, boycotts and fasts. In his words, “Non-violence is not inaction. It is not discussion. It is not for the timid or weak… Non-violence is hard work.”
3. There’s strength in numbers. March 31 is also known as César Chávez Day of Service and Learning. He began his career as a community organizer and was moved by the plight of migrant workers who were marginalized. By unionizing them and organizing protests he gave workers a voice.
4. Never give up the fight. Chávez never gave up his fight for La Causa, organizing a national grape boycott and going on a 25-day hunger strike in 1968. He continued to do smaller fasts until 1988 when he embarked on a 36-day ‘Fast for Life’ over dangerous pesticides.
5. Walk the walk. It’s great to give a beautiful speech or sign a petition but Chávez committed his entire life to making real change in the world. Actions speak louder than words.
6. Change takes sacrifice. César Chávez gave up a much more comfortable career as a community organizer to embark on, what many thought was an impossible dream, a quest to organize migrant farm workers. Many believe his untimely death at 66 was because fasting was so hard on his body.
7. Remember that everyone is equal. It’s easy to forget that the United States is built on the philosophy that everyone is equal. Documented and undocumented farm workers all deserve the same conditions that factory workers and office workers deserve.
8. Community is everything. Big change begins with small change, in your own community, and grows from there. We all need to support each other.
9. It’s up to us to look out for the little guy. As citizens and community members it’s up to us to stick up for those who don’t have a voice.
10. Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures. This quote by the man himself sums up the spirit of César Chávez Day and it’s a lesson we all need to keep in mind in the current political climate.