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The importance of a national Cesar Chavez Day

LatinaLista — Today is the birthdate of United Farm Worker founder Cesar Chavez.
For the the nationwide community of Mexican-Americans, Chavez is a heroic role model because his actions, on behalf of the migrant farmer, resulted in positive change. His courage created a legacy that while remembered is also forgotten until the words he made famous, Si se puede, are randomly invoked by politicians and activists.

Pablo Lopez of Flint (left) walks carrying his own tribute to Cesar E. Chavez while taking part in the Cesar E. Chavez March on Chavez Drive. Lopez has been an activist all his life and marched with Chavez in Chicago.
(Source: Jim Cheek | The Flint Journal)

For example, while President Barack Obama remembered Chavez’ birthday with an official statement, GOOGLE creators did not.
While California, and seven other states, celebrate Cesar Chavez’ birthdate as a state holiday, 42 other states do not. And while some school districts have been teaching students about the life of Cesar Chavez, the Dallas (Texas) Independent School District, of which 65.3 percent of the students is Hispanic, announced only this week that Chavez’s struggle for farm worker rights will be incorporated into elementary school lessons beginning in April and high school students will learn about Chávez next school year as part of their social studies classes.
And while some cities in the nation have a street named in honor of Cesar Chavez, many other cities still resist the idea.
This “imbalance” in honoring the only Latino figure who has garnered national recognition sends a mixed message to Latino youth and non-Latinos and underscores the need to create a national Cesar Chavez Day.

Not designating March 31 as national day to recognize Cesar Chavez means that in some parts of the country the man and his life are known and in other parts he is known simply for originating the phrase “Si se puede.”
It doesn’t matter that Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American. His brown skin, Hispanic background and initiative to stand up for migrant farmers makes him an individual that all Latinos can relate to on some level and be proud that he stood up for a group that was taken advantage of.
A national day to honor Cesar Chavez unifies recognition of the man and elevates his profile unlike a thousand disjointed celebrations strive to do. It sends a clear message to Latino youth that Cesar Chavez is an important individual who has garnered respect, not just from the people, but the government.
A national Cesar Chavez day sends the message to non-Latinos who sit in the majority on city councils and school boards across the nation that this man is not a footnote in US history but is a part of US history and, as such, has garnered the type of respect that leaves no argument for whether or not there should be a city street named in his honor but which street should be named for him.

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  • adriana
    March 31, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    I do agree that we should learn about and honor Cesar Chavez. However, I am concerned that a federal holiday will pretty much only give government employees(fed, state and some local) and public school students the day off. Many businesses in the private sector don’t even honor MLK day. The people who probably most need a day off (the working poor) won’t get one. And with the economy being as is, another paid day off won’t go over well with the electorate.
    I’m conflicted about this… but you can see what I think here:

  • Horace
    March 31, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Yet the current generation of Hispanics disrespect his memory by their support of illegal immigration, a concept that he strongly opposed. Supporters of illegal immigrants aren’t fit to use his name.

  • Grandma
    March 31, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Cesar Chavez was against illegal immigration. Here is a good quote about Chavez’s views on illegal immigration. “Our potential competition appears almost unlimited as thousands upon thousands of green carders pour across the border during peak harvest seasons. These are people who, though lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, have not now, and probably never had, any bona fide intention of making the United States of America their permanent home. They come here to earn American dollars to spend in Mexico where the cost of living is lower. They are natural economic rivals of those who become American citizens or who otherwise decide to stake out their future in this country. In abolishing the bracero program, Congress has but scotched the snake, not killed it. The program lives on in the annual parade of thousands of illegal and green carders across the United States-Mexico border to work in our fields. To achieve law and order in any phase of human activity, legislators must pay need to other laws not made by man, one of which is the economic law of supply and demand. We are asking Congress to pay heed to this law in the light of some hard facts about farm labor supply along our southern border. Otherwise, extension of [the National Labors Relations Act] coverage to farm workers in that part of the country will not produce much law and order. What we ask is some way to keep the illegals and green carders from breaking strikes; some civil remedy against growers who employ behind our picket lines those who have entered the United States illegally, and, likewise those green carders who have not permanently moved their residence and domicile to the United States”

  • Sandra
    April 1, 2009 at 7:54 am

    Horace and Grandma you are correct. Cesar Chavez was indeed opposed to these illegals crossing our borders. It is mind blowing to me that Hispanics who are illegal alien sympathizers want to glorify him when he was against their agenda. Are they in denial of the facts or just plain don’t bother to read them?

  • Karen
    April 2, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Actually I don’t think there should be a Cesar Chavez holiday. First of all, his impact was primarily in the Southwest and farmworkers are just as exploited today as they were back then.
    Secondly, any attempt to give him a national holiday would generate a fight, and I think our political capital should be used on real issues like the education and the economy instead of on something symbolic like a holiday.
    Also why is it that the only Mexican-American who is ever honored for anything Cesar Chavez? I like Chavez, but some people want to convey the message that we are a permanent labor class.
    Why don’t we ever hear about Mexican-American scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, etc? We have Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, but those people are never mentioned.

  • Idler
    April 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    Sandra makes a devastating point. Will any of the pro-illegal alien commentators respond?
    Are those crickets I hear?

  • Panchito
    April 2, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    I wouldn’t give a rats behind about Mr. Chavez and the last thing we need is another holiday.
    why would U.S. Hispanics want an onion picker to represent us with a national holiday when we have many hard working professional Hispanics more worthy of recognition?
    We want our children to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers – not some cotton picker.
    And yes, I’m putting my money where my mouth is since my son (and my money) are going to a major university where he is studying engineering.
    Yes Sandra, I know this is hard for you to believe since the only Hispanics that you seem to know live in the ghetto – where you and Idler live.

  • Karen
    April 2, 2009 at 11:34 pm

    Idler: Some of you make every single topic about illegal immigration. But I’ll respond anyway.
    Cesar Chavez was opposed to migrant workers from Mexico being manipulated by the federal government to lower the wages of US farmworkers. The federal government is still doing this today, and farmworkers do not get decent wages, benefits, and in some cases they dio not get lunch and bathroom breaks. During the summer some farmworkers in CA die from heat stroke and dehydration. Nobody cares.
    Chavez knew that it was the federal government and agribuisness that manipulated workers on both sides of the border. He did not “hate” workers from Mexico.
    My guess is that Chavez would HATE NAFTA and globalism. Unlike you, he would understand the real issue.

  • Lew Waters
    April 3, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Cesar Chavez was an American, third generation if I recall right.
    He opposed illegal immigration and fought for better conditions for farm workers, not to bring illegals in to work for sub-par wages to keep food prices low.
    To support illegals is to disrespect the memory of a good man who fought the good fight all of his life for the betterment of Americans.

  • Lew Waters
    April 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    If you really wish to honor a Hispanic, why not choose Jaime Escalante, the subject of the 1988 movie, Stand and Deliver?
    I have no idea of his politics, but he worked to advance inner city children in Algebra and Calculus, who were considered “unteachable.”

  • Rico
    December 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    We should put US Prisoners to work in the fields. We should make them pick the crops that illegals pick.
    Instead of alklowing them to build up their strength, watch TV all day, and plan their crimes from their cells, put a whip to them and make them earn their freedom which that gave up by committing crimes. Why should we be paying illegals to do the work prisoners should do?
    It would benefit the farmers and the consumers as prices would go down. Production would rise, and a great portion of the illegal alien segment would be forced to go home and develop their own country, not tear ours down.

  • Rico
    December 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    By the way, I think there should be a Caesar Chavez Holiday. He was a great man and a great person. And it should be taught that he was not in support of hiring illegal aliens.

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