Cesar Chavez

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Description

Arizonan Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union, fought for the rights of migrant workers. His impact is still felt today in the phrase, “Si se puede (Yes we can),” chanted by labor and immigration rights proponents.

Transcript

Narrator:
Cesar Chavez was an Arizonan whose work led him across America.

Paul Chavez:
Arizona has always been an important part of his life. Even though he worked in California and throughout the country, he always considered himself an Arizonan.

Narrator:
By creating the United Farm Workers Union, he gave millions a voice for fairness.

Reporter:
Ms. Arnez, your father is a contractor. Can you tell me something about his position and yours here at the vineyards?

Ms. Arnez:
Well, he quit because he didn't think it was fair, the prices they were paying. He wanted them to be fair to him, so we decided to go ahead and join the union.

Narrator:
He was the grandson of a former Mexican slave and the son of Mexican farmers. Cesar Estrada Chavez was born in 1927 near Yuma , Arizona .

Paul Chavez:
My father's experience isn't unlike the experience of a lot of multigenerational Latino families here in the United States , you know, very proud of his roots, but he was a citizen of the United States . He went to school here, he served his country. Unfortunately, he wasn't offered a lot of the opportunities that other folks had, but he really is a son of the United States .

Narrator:
Chavez's father lost the family farm during the Great Depression. The Chavez family survived by traveling throughout Arizona , laboring in fields on their way to California . After his eighth-grade graduation, Chavez decided to quit school and become a migrant farmer to help his family.

Paul Chavez:
I remember him saying once, when asked what motivated him, and he said that he remembered the look on his mother's face when she told him, " Mijo , you can't go to school anymore, you need to help support your family." And he said that he wasn't driven by any fancy philosophy or ideology, it was just that he had this burning desire to make sure that no mother ever had to tell her children that same -- that same message.

Narrator:
At 17, Chavez joined the Navy and served in the Pacific during World War II. After his tour, he returned to the fields, picking grapes and cotton, only to find the same working conditions he and other migrant farmers endured before the war. Frustrated with poor working conditions, low wages, and discrimination, Chavez decided to take action. He formed what would become the United Farm Workers in 1956.

Paul Chavez:
He had this saying, he says, "You know, there are no perfect political systems; what there is is this perfect political participation."

Narrator:
In 1972, Cesar Chavez returned to his native Arizona , where he fasted to call attention to the migrant farm workers' cause. His movement began to affect political elections.

Paul Chavez:
I remember times being a little frustrated thinking that things weren't happening quick enough, and I remember him saying, " Mijo , you got to understand where we've come from."

Narrator:
Chavez's movement gained national recognition and support from well-known national figures from Bobby Kennedy and Coretta Scott King to Joan Baez.


News Reel Footage:

Joan Baez:
First of all, I have a very strong personal love for Cesar, and I barely know him, which must come from – from recognizing a person who's committed and devoted and is a beautiful soul.

Narrator:
Some, including the Teamsters Union, tried unsuccessfully to stop Cesar Chavez and take control of the United Farm Workers, but the UFW, campaigning for higher wages for grape and lettuce pickers and a limit to the use of pesticides, went on to gain collective bargaining agreements and peacefully end strikes of farm workers.

Joe Cortez:
If I hadn't learned to repress or to control that anger, I would still be saying, "Do you remember la huelga ?" But now I say, “We remember la huelga , but we also understand what it meant and that it was part of a social movement to bring about changes to empower our people."

Narrator:
Cesar Chavez died in his sleep in Arizona in 1993.

Celia Arambula:
And one of us would start it and we'd go, "la, la!"

Jose Cortez:
Absolutely. That was the farm worker clap; very inspirational, very...

Narrator:
His followers and former organizers of the United Farm Workers Union have worked to keep Chavez's memory alive. They sponsor annual events, visit the Santa Rita Center , where the UFW often met before taking their demands to the streets...and educate the young about the peaceful struggle.

Celia Arambula:
We were working around a prophet. Because his message is prophetic. It's something that's eternal. It's not going to be gone in 50 years, 100 years; he changed -- he made history, he changed history for the better, and he did it with love. He did it with nonviolence, he did it with love.

Paul Chavez:
He really believed that if you stick with things long enough and hard enough, that you can make a difference, and so if you look at his life's work, there was many occasions where he probably should've quit, but he just wouldn't give up because he believed that in the end, sí se puede, you can make a difference.

Man:
Sí se puede .