In 20th century social activism, one name stands out from the rest who made an influence on American society: Cesar Chavez. His campaigns for workers’ rights, especially farm workers, was extremely aggressive, yet it was also not violent. Forced to watch his parents lose their farm and then be treated unequally, he is responsible for the first farm-labor Union in the United States.
1. Honored By the US
Although Chavez was not received by the general public in a positive way at first, the respect that people eventually developed for him was immense. He is remembered with numerous streets and schools named after him. There’s even a national monument. In 2011, however, the US Navy trumped them all by debuting the USNS Cesar Chavez in 2011.
2. A Lot of Schools
Chavez was a child of the Great Depression. When his family became migrant workers in California, he moved from town to town as his parents sought out work. This caused him to attend nearly 40 different schools before the eighth grade. He finally dropped out of school at that point so he could earn income too.
3. Strongly Opposed
Chavez demanded equal rights, but also demanded that migrant workers be legal workers. Over most of his life, he was strongly opposed to any amnesty programs for illegal immigrants. His belief was that illegal workers degraded the pay and benefits that legal workers could receive. Chavez eventually softened his stance near the end of his life, but always supported the legal worker first.
4. A Long Fast
When Chavez was fighting for workers’ rights, it was at a time when DDT was being extensively used. Workers were even being sprayed while working in the fields. He helped secure the first contract that prohibited DDT use and even fasted for 36 days at one point to protest how many pesticides were being used on grapes.
5. A Soft Heart
Chavez said that he became a vegetarian when he realized that animals felt the same emotions that humans did. He thanked his dog, who was appropriately named “Boycott,” for changing his mind about animal protein consumption.
Cesar Chavez influenced an entire generation and his work continues to live on. There may be much work left still to do, but thanks to Chavez, the task isn’t as large as it could be.