Honoring Cesar Chavez (or, how to use a library for research)
Grand County Library District
Perhaps you’ve noticed a new Grand County Library District (GCLD) browsing category titled Cesar Chavez, Agriculture, Cooking in our catalog. Perhaps you’ve also noticed that March 31 is Cesar Chavez Day. Perhaps you’ve even asked yourself, “Cesar Chavez? Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient?”
So, when I find myself wondering, “Who exactly was Cesar Chavez?” I remember the words that all Harry Potter fans will recognize, “When in doubt, go to the library.” Online resources are great for this type of research. Instantaneous results.
According to Britannic Online, Cesar Chavez (American labor leader) was born in Yuma, Arizona. His family were of Mexican American descent who, like many, lost their farm in the Great Depression and became migrant workers. A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, Chavez returned to his work as a migrant farmer in Arizona and California after the war.
His career as an activist formally started after the war when he became involved with Community Services Organization (CSO) and then co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). The NFWA is now known as the United Farm Workers (UFW). Chavez became a familiar name in U.S. households as he led a five-year strike of California grapes.
As is often the case when digging through wonderful resources for answers, I came across information that led to even more questions.
The next stop in my online library resource visit was the Plains to Peaks Historic Newspapers. While perusing a variety of newspapers highlighting the Grape Boycott, the Transition, from CSU Fort Collins, jumped out at me. In Volume II, Number 5, October 22, 1969, I discovered an article entitled Chamberlain Waits Again…Boycott Grapes. The article demanded the removal of all grapes from the university. Furthermore, the author said that not only should the university stop buying grapes, but it should also publicly endorse the now two-year long boycott and encourage other businesses to follow suit. Finally, it also demanded that CSU give all its grapes to the United Mexican-American Students (UMAS) “so we can destroy them [grapes] publicly.” Alongside the boycott posting, the lyrics to Viva La Raza were also posted – “Long live the cause, Long live la raza, and Long live unity.”
It was through his work in mobilizing the migrant farm workers that Chavez recognized the importance of music. Not only did the music energize and motivate those picketing, but the farm workers’ theater also served to mobilize the Chicano community behind the efforts. Songs like Yo Soy Chicano (“I am Chicano”), De Colores, or El Picket Sign are songs associated with Chavez and unitors of the Chicano people. He successfully mobilized communities, not just individuals.
The grape boycott was successful, leading to concessions for the farm workers that included pay raises, health-care benefits, and protections from pesticides. Chavez continued to have success in forcing agribusiness to the table and in lifting the bargaining power of the farm workers.
Removing dangerous pesticides, ensuring basic safety protections, supplying access to drinking water, guaranteeing minimum wage, and providing health-care benefits were all causes to which Chavez dedicated his life.
I’ll leave you with these final inspiring words from the 2014 Presidential Proclamation identifying March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day: “Cesar Chavez devoted his life to correcting injustices, to reminding us that every job has dignity, every life has value, and everyone — no matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from — should have the chance to get ahead.”
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