Cesar E. Chavez National Monument
César Estrada Chávez (March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993) was an American labor leader, community organizer, and Latino American civil rights activist. Along with Dolores Huerta, he co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later merged to become the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Ideologically, his world-view combined leftist politics with Roman Catholic social teachings.
Born in Yuma, Arizona, to a Mexican American family, Chavez began his working life as a manual laborer before spending two years in the United States Navy. Relocating to California, where he married, he got involved in the Community Service Organization (CSO), through which he helped laborers register to vote. In 1959, he became the CSO's national director, a position based in Los Angeles. In 1962, he left the CSO to co-found the NFWA, based in Delano, California, through which he launched an insurance scheme, credit union, and the El Malcriado newspaper for farmworkers. Later that decade he began organizing strikes among farmworkers, most notably the successful Delano grape strike of 1965–1970. Amid the grape strike his NFWA merged with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to form the UFW in 1967. Influenced by the Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez emphasized direct but nonviolent tactics, including pickets and boycotts, to pressure farm owners into granting strikers' demands. He imbued his campaigns with Roman Catholic symbolism, including public processions, masses, and fasts. Receiving much support from labor and leftist groups, he was monitored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
In the early 1970s, Chavez sought to expand the UFW's influence outside California by opening branches in other U.S. states. Viewing illegal immigrants as a major source of strike-breakers, he also pushed a campaign against illegal immigration into the U.S., which generated violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and caused schisms with many of the UFW's allies. Interested in co-operatives as a form of organization, he established a remote commune in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains. His increased isolation and emphasis on unrelenting campaigning alienated many of the California farmworkers who had previously supported him and by 1973 the UFW had lost most of the contracts and membership it won during the late 1960s. His alliance with California Governor Jerry Brown helped ensure the passing of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975. In later life, he also became an advocate for veganism. Membership of the UFW dwindled in the 1980s and Chavez moved into real-estate development. Although the UFW faltered a few years after Chavez died in 1993, his work led to numerous improvements for union laborers.
A controversial figure, UFW critics raised concerns about Chavez's firm personal control of the union, the purges of those he deemed disloyal, and the personality cult built around him, while farm-owners considered him a communist subversive. For organized labor and leftist groups in the U.S., he became an icon and he posthumously became a "folk saint" among Mexican Americans. His birthday is a federal commemorative holiday in several U.S. states, while many places are named after him, and in 1994, he posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Working for the Community Service Organization: 1953–1962
In late 1953, Chavez was laid off by the General Box Company. Ross then secured funds so that the CSO could employ Chavez as an organizer, traveling around California setting up other chapters. In this job, he traveled across Decoto, Salinas, Fresno, Brawley, San Bernardino, Madera, and Bakersfield. Many of the CSO chapters fell apart after Ross or Chavez ceased running them, and to prevent this Saul Alinsky advised them to unite the chapters, of which there were over twenty, into a self-sustaining national organization. In late 1955, Chavez returned to San Jose to rebuild the CSO chapter there so that it could sustain an employed full-time organizer. To raise funds, he opened a rummage store, organized a three-day carnival, and sold Christmas trees, although often made a loss.
In early 1957 he moved to Brawley to rebuild the chapter there. His repeated moving meant that his family was regularly uprooted; he saw little of his wife and children and was absent for the birth of his sixth child. Chavez grew increasingly disillusioned with the CSO, believing that middle-class members were becoming increasingly dominant and were pushing its priorities and allocation of funds in directions he disapproved of; he, for instance, opposed the decision to hold the organization's 1957 convention in Fresco's Hacienda Hotel, arguing that its prices were prohibitive for poorer members. Amid the wider context of the Cold War and McCarthyite suspicions that leftist activism was a front for Marxist-Leninist groups, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began monitoring Chavez and opened a file on him.
At Alinsky's instigation, the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) paid $20,000 to the CSO for the latter to open a branch in Oxnard; Chavez became its organizer, working with the largely Mexican farm laborers. In Oxnard, Chavez worked to encourage voter registration. He repeatedly heard concerns from local Mexican-American laborers that they were being routinely passed over or fired so that employers could hire cheaper Mexican guest workers, or braceros, in violation of federal law. To combat this practice, he established the CSO Employment Committee that launched a "registration campaign" through which unemployed farm-workers could sign their name to highlight their desire for work.
The Committee targeted its criticism at Hector Zamora, the director of the Ventura County Farm Labor Association, who controlled the most jobs in the area. It also used sit-ins of workers to raise the profile of their cause, a tactic also being used by proponents of the civil rights movement in the South at that time. It had some success in getting companies to replace braceros with unemployed Americans. Its campaign also ensured that federal officials began properly investigating complaints about the use of braceros and received assurances from the state farm placement service that they would seek out unemployed Americans rather than automatically hiring bracero labor. In May, the Employment Committee was formally transferred from the CSO to the UPWA.
In 1959, Chavez moved to Los Angeles to become the CSO's national director. He, his wife, and (now) eight children settled into the largely Mexican neighborhood of Boyle Heights. He found the CSO's financial situation was bad, with even his own salary in jeopardy. He laid off several organizers to keep the organization afloat. He tried to organize a life insurance scheme among CSO members to raise funds, but this project failed to materialize. Under Chavez, the CSO secured financing from wealthier donors and organizations, usually to finance specific projects for a set period of time. The California American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) for instance paid it $12,000 to conduct voter registration schemes in six counties with high Mexican populations. The wealthy benefactor Katy Peake then offered it $50,000 over three years to organize California's farmworkers. Under Chavez's leadership, the CSO assisted the successful campaign to get the government to extend the state pension to non-citizens who were permanent residents. At the ninth annual CSO convention in March 1962, Chavez resigned.
Founding the National Farm Workers Association: 1962–1965
In April 1962, Chavez and his family moved to Delano, where they rented a house on Kensington Street. He was intent on forming a labor union for farmworkers but, to conceal this aim, told people that he was simply conducting a census of farmworkers to determine their needs. He began devising the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), referring to it as a "movement" rather than a trade union. He was aided in this project both by his wife and by Dolores Huerta; according to Pawel, Huerta became his "indispensable, lifelong ally". Other key supporters of his project were the Reverend Jim Drake and other members of the California Migrant Ministry; although as a Roman Catholic Chavez was initially suspicious of these Protestant preachers, he came to view them as key allies.
Chavez spent his days traveling around the San Joaquin Valley, meeting with workers, and encouraging them to join his association. At the time, he lived off a combination of unemployment benefits, his wife's wage as a farmworker, and donations from friends and sympathizers. On 30 September 1962, he formalized the Association at a convention in Fresno. There, delegates elected Chavez as the group's general director. They also agreed that, once the association had a life insurance policy up and running, members would start paying monthly dues of $3.50. The group adopted the motto "viva la causa" ("long live the cause") and a flag featuring a black eagle on a red and white background. At the organization's constitutional convention held in Fresno in January 1963, Chavez was elected president, with Huerta, Julio Hernandez, and Gilbert Padilla its vice presidents.
Chavez wanted to control the NFWA's direction and to that end ensured that the role of the group's officers was largely ceremonial, with control of the group being primarily in the hands of the staff, headed by himself. At the NFWA's second convention, held in Delano in 1963, Chavez was retained as its general director while the role of the presidency was scrapped. That year, he began collecting membership dues, before establishing an insurance policy for FWA members. Later in the year, he launched a credit union for NFWA members, having gained a state charter after the federal government refused him one. The NFWA attracted volunteers from other parts of the country. One of these, Bill Esher, became editor of the group's newspaper, El Malcriado, which soon after launching increased its print run from 1000 to 3000 to meet demand.
The NFWA was initially based out of Chavez's house although in September 1964 it moved its headquarters to an abandoned Pentecostal church in Albany Street, West Delano. During its second full year in operation, the association more than doubled both its income and its expenditures. As it became more secure, it began to plan for its first strike. In April 1965, rose grafters approached the organization and requested help in organizing their strike for better working conditions. The strike targeted two companies, Mount Arbor and Conklin. Aided by the NFWA, the workers struck on May 3, and after four days the growers agreed to raise wages, and which the strikers returned to work. Following this success, Chavez's reputation began to filter through leftist activist circles across California.
Growing success: 1966–1967
In March 1966, the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare's Subcommittee on Migratory Labor held three hearings in California. The third, which took place in Delano, was attended by Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who toured a labor camp with Chavez and addressed a mass meeting.] As the strike began to flag in winter, Chavez decided on a march of 300 miles to the state capitol at Sacramento. This would pass through dozens of farmworker communities and attract attention to their cause. In March, the procession started out with about fifty marchers who left Delano.
Chavez imbued the march with Roman Catholic significance. Marchers carried crucifixes and a banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe and used the slogan "Peregrinación, Penitencia, Revolución." Portraying the march as an act of penance, he argued that the image of his personal suffering—his feet became painful and for part of the journey he had to walk with a cane—would be useful for the movement. At each stop, they read aloud a "Plan de Delano" written by Valdez, deliberately echoing the "Plan de Ayala" of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. At Easter, the marchers arrived in Sacramento, where over 8000 people amassed in front of the state capitol. Chavez briefly addressed the crowd.
During the march, Chavez had been approached by Schenley's lawyer, Sidney Korshak. They agreed to contract negotiations within 60 days. Chavez then declared an end to the Schenley boycott; instead, the movement would switch the boycott to the DiGiorgio Corporation, a major Delano landowner. DiGiorgio then called an election among their vineyard workers, hoping to challenge the NFWA's influence. A more conservative union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was competing against the NFWA in the DiGiorgio workers' election. After DiGiorgio altered the terms of the election to benefit a Teamster victory, Chavez removed the NFWA from the ballot and urged his supporters to abstain. When the vote took place in June 1966, nearly half of eligible workers abstained, allowing a Teamster victory. Chavez then appealed to Pat Brown, the Governor of California, to intervene. Brown agreed, wanting the endorsement of the Mexican American Political Association. He declared the DiGiorgio election invalid and called for an August rerun to be supervised by the American Arbitration Association. On 1 September, Chavez's union was declared the victor in the second election. DiGiorgio subsequently largely halted grape production in Delano. The focus then shifted to Giumarra, the largest grape grower in the San Joaquin Valley. In August 1967, Chavez announced a strike against them followed by a boycott of their grapes.
An agreement was reached that Chavez's NFWA would merge with the AWOC, resulting in a new United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC). AWOC's Larry Itliong became the new group's assistant director, although soon felt marginalized by Chavez. UFWOC was also made an organizing committee of the AFL-CIO; this ensured that it would become a formal part of the U.S. labor movement and would receive a monthly subsidy. Not all of Chavez's staff agreed with the merger; many of its more left-wing members mistrusted the growing links with organized labor, particularly due to the AFL-CIO's anti-communist views. UFWOC was plagued by ethnic divisions between its Filipino and Mexican members, although continued to attract new volunteers, the majority Anglos brought into the movement via left-wing and religious groups or as part of social service internships. Chavez brought new people, such as LeRoy Chatfield, Marshall Ganz, and the lawyer Jerry Cohen, into his inner circle. His old friend, Fred Ross, had also joined. Soon, the secretary-treasurer Antonio Orendain was left as the only Mexican migrant in the union's senior ranks.
In June 1967, Chavez launched his first purge of the union to remove those he deemed disruptive or disloyal to his leadership. His cover story was that he wanted to eject members of the Communist Party and related far-left groups, although the FBI's report at the time found no evidence of communist infiltration of the union. Some longstanding members, such as Esher, left because they disapproved of these purges. Tensions between Chavez and the Teatro had been building for some time; the Teatro's members were among those highly critical of the union's new links with the AFL-CLIO. Chavez was concerned that the Teatro had become a rival to his prominent standing in the movement and was questioning his actions. Chavez asked the Teatro to disband, at which it split from the union and went on a tour of the U.S.
César E. Chávez National Monument
Cesar E. Chavez National Monument was established by President Barack Obama on October 8, 2012, by proclamation under the authority of the Antiquities Act. The monument is located among the Tehachapi Mountains in Keene, California, about 32 miles (51 km) southeast of Bakersfield. The property is known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (La Paz), which was designated as a National Historic Landmark along with the monument on October 8, 2012.
The monument is the 398th unit in the National Park System and is managed collaboratively by the National Park Service and the National Chavez Center. The Center and members of the Chávez family donated properties of La Paz to the federal government to establish the national monument. Initial funding was provided by the National Park Foundation and the America Latino Heritage Fund. Some of the monument's services and programs are still in development, but a visitor center and memorial garden where Chavez is buried are open to the public. Certain areas of the monument are closed to the public due to the Chávez family still living in La Paz, and members of the UFW still working in the UFW offices located on the property.
Proposed inclusion in a national park
In October 2013, the site was identified as one of several to be part of a proposed new National Historical Park to commemorate the life and work of Cesar Chávez and the farmworker movement. Other sites for the proposed new park—which requires Congressional approval—include the Filipino Community Hall in Delano, California (headquarters of the Delano grape strike), The Forty Acres (the original UFW headquarters in Delano), McDonnell Hall in San Jose, and the Santa Rita Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
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The grave of César Chávez is located in the garden of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, California.
Chavez died on April 23, 1993, of unspecified natural causes in San Luis, Arizona, in the home of former farmworker and longtime friend Dofla Maria Hau. Chavez was in Arizona helping UFW attorneys defend the union against a lawsuit. Shortly after his death, his widow, Helen Chavez, donated his black nylon union jacket to the National Museum of American History, a branch of the Smithsonian.
Chavez is buried at the National Chavez Center, on the headquarters campus of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), at 29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road in the Keene community of unincorporated Kern County, California.
He received belated full military honors from the US Navy at his graveside on April 23, 2015, the 22nd anniversary of his death.
César E. Chávez National Monument, also known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, is a 116-acre (47 ha) U.S. National Monument in Keene, Kern County, California, located about 32 miles away from Bakersfield, California. The property was the headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW), and home to César Chávez from the early 1970s until his death in 1993. Chávez's gravesite is located in the property's gardens along with that of his wife, Helen Fabela Chávez. Originally developed as a headquarters and worker housing area for a quarry, it served as a tuberculosis sanitarium (known as Stony Brook Sanitorium) in the early 1900s, until its acquisition by the UFW in the early 1970s.
The National Chavez Center in Keene, California