Long before he was a national icon with his own holiday, Cesar Chavez was a boy who lost his house. The bank took it away during the Great Depression, and the Chavez family was forced to relocate to California, where they toiled as migrant farm workers.
Like many young people without economic opportunity, Chavez dropped out of school to support his family. He was in the seventh grade at the time and would spend the next decade with his hands in the earth.
Frustrated by terrible working conditions and the plight of his community, Chavez began organizing and agitating. He was, to say the least, very good at it. Along with Dolores Huerta, Chavez started the United Farm Workers and pushed through monumental changes.
He forced landowners to recognize the rights of workers, passed legislation giving citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants, and inspired generations—including many of us at The California Endowment—to give their own time and service to their community.
It’s amazing to think about what Cesar Chavez achieved without any power, or wealth, or even a high school diploma. Through public service, Chavez galvanized his community, moved mountains and became an inspiration to all Americans.
“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community,” he said. “Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”
When President Barack Obama declared a national commemorative holiday, he said Americans should “observe this day with appropriate service, community, and educational programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.”
We invite you to do just that.
Take a look at our programs and initiatives and see where your passion drives you. Get involved with Sons & Brothers, #Health4All or one of our other grassroots campaigns. Let Cesar Chavez’s legacy of public service inspire you to make California a healthier state where all of us can thrive.