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Davis, California

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Davis celebrated César Chávez Day on March 31

This annual holiday honors the late activist and his push toward social and economic justice

By SOFIA BIREN — city@theaggie.org


Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of violence and racism which some readers may find disturbing. 


César Chávez Day on March 31 marked the late activist’s 95th birthday and the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Farm Workers (UWF), the organization that he founded with Dolores Huerta. In 2014, President Barack Obama officially declared March 31 a holiday. Although it is not a federal holiday, it is celebrated in ten states including California. 

César Chávez is known for founding the UWF, which fought for racial equality for Mexican-Americans vis-à-vis improving the status and treatment of farm laborers, many of whom were Mexican-American and Latinx. Elsa Lopez-McCleod, a former farm laborer in California, remembers working in the fields with her parents on her summer breaks. 

“I remember as a child back in the ‘70s we would accompany our parents to do seasonal summer jobs in the Central Valley,” Lopez-McCleod said. “One of the biggest seasonal jobs in the summer was picking table grapes. We would get up at around four in the morning, get dressed, have breakfast, and we were out in the fields by 5 a.m. You had to be out early because you were at your most productive from 5 a.m. until 11 am before the long hot summer sun beat down on you and slowed you down.”

These conditions were only part of the backdrop of the Chicanx experience. Other aspects that are often forgotten includes the lynchings of Mexican-Americans and discriminarory laws modeled after the harsh Jim Crow laws in the south, nicknamed Juan Crow. There was segregation for Mexican-Americans in public places, including schools where students were not allowed to speak Spanish and were americanized. While in school, Chávez was given the American name Cesar, because his birth name Cesario was considered too “Mexican”. 

Chávez’s movement which advocated for better wages and conditions for the Mexican-American workers is credited with being the birth of the Chicano Movement. Lopez- McCleod, now a retired elementary school teacher, says that she can’t imagine supporting a family on the wages and conditions that were and still are commonplace to a certain extent.

“We have to credit César Chávez for making changes that improved the lives of farmworkers,” Lopez-McCleod said. “It was common practice to have farm workers work long hours without breaks, no bathrooms or even drinking water to be provided to them. César Chávez’s union negotiated for improved wages and work benefits for many farmworkers throughout the years and he was able to garner large national support for his causes”

Chávez died in 1993. The UWF still exists today, and Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the UWF, is still active in social justice work.

Today, Chávez is an important figure within the Chicano community and the country. In 2008, Obama said, “We should honor [Chavez] for what he’s taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation.” In 2014 the former president inaugurated March 31 as César Chávez Day. Before 2014, other states had already celebrated César Chávez Day. 

The late activist’s legacy is especially present in the surrounding region because of Davis’ proximity and affiliation with the agricultural industry. Spencer Bowen, a communications manager and policy analyst for the City of Woodland, said in an email that “Woodland and Yolo County are at the heart of California food and ag economy and our area’s agricultural bounty is fueled by the farmworkers that Chávez and others worked tirelessly to protect.” 

In honor of César Chávez Day, Bowen is happy to share that “The City [hosted] a celebration in Heritage Plaza at 5:30 PM on Thursday, March 31. The celebration [included] speakers, music, and singing to honor Chávez’s legacy and accomplishments.”


Written by: Sofia Biren — city@theaggie.org




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