Cesar Estrada Chavez was born March 31, 1927, on the small farm near Yuma, Arizona that his grandfather homesteaded during the 1880's. At age 10, life began as a migrant farm worker when his father lost the land during the Depression. These were bitterly poor years for Cesar, his parents, brothers and sisters. Together with thousands of other displaced families, the Chavez family migrated throughout the Southwest, laboring in fields and vineyards. Cesar left school after the eighth grade to help support his family. Cesar served as CSO national director in the late 1950's and early 1960's.
But his dream was to create an organization to help farm workers whose suffering he had shared. In 1962, after failing to convince the CSO to commit itself to farm worker organizing, he resigned his paid CSO job, the first regular paying job he had. He moved to Delano, California where he founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). In September 1965, Cesar's NFWA, with 1200 member families, joined an AFL-CIO sponsored union in a strike against major Delano area table and wine grape growers. Against great odds, Cesar led a successful five-year strike-boycott that rallied millions of supporters to the United Farm Workers. He forged a national support coalition of unions, church groups, students, minorities and consumers.
The two unions merged in 1966 to form the UFW, and it became affiliated with the AFL-CIO. Cesar called for a new worldwide grape boycott. By 1975, a Louis Harris poll showed 17 million American adults were honoring the grape boycott. It forced growers to support then California Governor Jerry Brown's collective bargaining law for farm workers, the 1975 Agricultural Labor Relations Act. Since 1975, the UFW won most of the union elections in which it participated. Despite the farm labor board's bureaucratic delays, farm workers made progress.
By the early 1980's farm workers numbered in the tens of thousands were working under UFW contracts enjoyed higher pay, family health coverage, pension benefits and other contract protections. In 1991, Cesar received the Aguila Azteca (The Aztec Eagle), Mexico's highest award presented to people of Mexican heritage who have made major contributions outside of Mexico. On August 8, 1994, Cesar became the second Mexican American to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. President Bill Clinton presented this award posthumously. Cesar Chavez passed away on April 23, 1993, at the age of 66. More than 40, 000 people participated in Cesar's funeral at Delano.
He was laid to rest at La Paz in a rose garden at the foot of the hill he often climbed to watch the sun rise.