Born in Yuma, Arizona, Cesar Estrada Chavez (1927-1993) was a migrant farm worker and the son of migrant farm workers.
Moving often with his family, he attended sixty-five elementary schools and never graduated from high school. He knew firsthand the dismal poverty and injustice suffered by Chicano farm workers. He decided to do something about it by becoming a labor organizer.
Chavez founded a union called the United Farm Workers (UFW). From 1965 to 1970, the UFW carried out a strike demanding higher wages from growers of table grapes in California. La Huelga, or “the Strike,” drew national attention to the plight of Chicano farm workers: the shacks where they were forced to live; the pesticides that endangered their lives; the violence used to intimidate them.
A follower of Indian resistance leader Mohandas Gandhi, Chavez insisted on nonviolence from his union members, even when beaten or jailed. Calling for a national boycott to support La Causa, or “the Cause,” he persuaded millions of Americans not to buy California table grapes.
In the end, the growers gave in to union demands. Mexican Americans had achieved a new level of self-respect and community awareness.