When we think of civil right leaders, names like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Rosas Parks and Malcom X may come to mind, and rightfully so. However, Chicano activists can sometimes get lost in the fold – but not in Denver.
March 25 marks Cesar Chavez Day, a day to observe the legacy of the civil rights and labor movement activist.
Chavez dedicated his life to working toward improving working conditions and wages for farm workers. He was born in Arizona in 1927, and him and his family worked on fields as migrant farm workers during the Great Depression. Chavez learned of unions as the 1930s began to unravel, and in 1962 he started the National Farm Workers Association.
Chavez, joined the Community Service Organization, a group that worked to gather Latino voters to address things like immigration and police brutality. When the group made it clear that it wouldn’t start a farm workers union, Chavez left and started the National Farm Workers Association. According to the Smithsonian, over 17 million people in the country supported farm workers by refusing to purchase grapes – something Chavez’s union advocated for. California pushed to make life better for farm workers by forming unions to work for better wages and conditions.
“When poor people get involved in a long conflict, such as a strike or a civil rights drive, and the pressure increases each day, there is a deep need for spiritual advice. Without it, we see families crumble, leadership weaken, and hard workers grow tired,” said Chavez.
“Society is made up of groups, and as long as the smaller groups do not have the same rights and the same protection as others – I don’t care whether you call it capitalism or communism – it is not going to work. Somehow, the guys in power have to be reached by counterpower, or through a change in their hearts and minds, or change will not come,” said Chavez.
This year’s 19th Annual Cesar Chavez event/march with its starting point at Regis University has been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.