César Chávez Cesar Estrada Chavez, named for his grandfather, Cesario, was born near Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927. He passed away in San Luis, a small village near Yuma, on April 23, 1993.
According to the United Farmworkers web site, as a young Mexican-American growing up in Arizona, Chavez was acquainted with prejudice and injustice from an early age. In one significant incident, the small adobe home where Cesar was born was swindled from his family by dishonest businessmen. Cesar's father had agreed to clear 80 acres of land and add to the home in exchange for the deed to 40 acres of land. The agreement was broken and the land sold to a man named Justus Jackson. Cesar's father then went to a lawyer who advised him to borrow money to buy the land. When Cesar's father could not pay the interest on the loan the lawyer bought back the land and sold it to the original owner. Cesar learned a lesson about injustice that he would never forget. Later, he would say, "The love for justice that is in us is not only the best part of our being, but it is also the most true to our nature."
He did not like school as a child, probably because he spoke only Spanish at home. The teachers were mostly Anglo and only spoke English. Spanish was forbidden in school. He remembers being punished with a ruler to his knuckles for violating the rule. He also remembers that some schools were segregated and he felt that in the integrated schools he was like a monkey in a cage. He remembers having to listen to a lot of racist remarks. He remembers seeing signs that read whites only. He and his brother, Richard, attended thirty-seven schools. He felt that education had nothing to do with his farm worker/migrant way of life. In 1942 he graduated from the eighth grade. He could not go to high school,because his father, Librado, had been in an accident and because he did not want his mother, Juana, to work in the fields, so instead became a migrant farm worker.
While his childhood school education was not the best, later in life, education was his passion. The walls of his office in Keene, California (United Farm Worker Headquarters ) are lined with hundreds of books ranging from philosophy, economics, cooperatives, and unions, to biographies on Gandhi and the Kennedys. He believed that, "The end of all education should surely be service to others," a belief that he practiced until his death.
In 1944 he joined the Navy at the age of seventeen. He served two years and in addition to discrimination, he experienced strict regimentation.
In 1948 Cesar married Helen Fabela. They honeymooned in California by visiting all the California Missions from Sonoma to San Diego. They settled in Delano, a town located in the grape-growing region of the San Joaquin Valley, and started their family. First Fernando, then Sylvia, then Linda, and five more children followed.
Cesar went to San Jose where he met and was influenced by Father Donald McDonnell. They talked about farm workers and strikes. Cesar began reading about St. Francis and Gandhi and nonviolence. After Father McDonnell came another very influential person, Fred Ross.
Cesar became an organizer for Ross's organization, the Community Service Organization - CSO. His first task was voter registration.