César Chávez

Steven W. Bender

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
César Chávez

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  • History of the Americas
  • US Cultural History


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César Chávez (b. 1927–d. 1993) is recognized as an American hero, as evidenced by an official state holiday in California, the first for any Latina/o or labor leader. Reflecting his influence beyond California, several other states have established optional or commemorative holidays honoring his legacy as a labor leader. Though renowned for his role as a cofounder, with Dolores Huerta and Filipino leaders, of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union to secure fair wages and safe working conditions for agricultural workers, Chávez’s legacy also includes his formative years as a political organizer in California for the Community Service Organization. Known for his invocation of religious symbols as an organizing tactic and his advocacy of an ethos of nonviolence in the farm worker movement, Chávez is best remembered for his twenty-five-day hunger fast in 1968 as an act of penance to ensure nonviolence in the increasingly contentious grape strike and national grape boycott sponsored by the UFW and centered in the grape fields of Delano, California. A later, longer fast in 1988 called attention to the dangers to farm workers and their families from the use of pesticides in the fields. Although rooted in the California grape fields, Chávez’s organizing efforts and the UFW union reached well beyond that locale to encompass other crops and states, notably drawing the UFW into a territorial dispute in the 1970s with the Teamsters union in lettuce and grape fields. UFW membership peaked under Chávez’s leadership in the early 1980s but declined significantly in subsequent years, mirroring national trends of union declines, although some critics fault Chávez’s leadership tactics. Chávez’s life is the subject of many scholarly works, particularly emphasizing the 1960s Delano grape strike and the national grape boycott as well as his leadership style and organizing strategies.

Article.  5479 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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