Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

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"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" is the cornerstone of our nations Declaration of Independence. When considering this quote and identifying an individual or group of individuals who have continued to pursue this belief in the twentieth century and beyond, one must consider the name Cesar Chavez and the organization, The United Farm Workers, he was so instrumental in its formation, as being synonymous with this phrase. (U.S. Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776))

Cesar Estrada Chavez was born March 31, 1927 on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona that his grandfather had homesteaded during the 1880's. Chavez was the second born of six children to Librado and Juana Chavez. At age 7 Cesar began school, but found it very difficult due to the fact that his family only spoke Spanish. Chavez preferred to learn from his uncles and grandparents who would read to him in Spanish and additionally he learned many things from his mother who believed that violence and selfishness were wrong and stressed this with all her children. In the 1930's, at age 10, Chavez was forced to begin his life as a migrant farm worker when his father lost the land homesteaded by his grandfather during the Great Depression. These were bitterly poor times for the Chavez family and together with thousands of other displaced families, they migrated throughout the Southwestern United States, laboring in the fields and vineyards. Cesar in an effort to help support his parents and brothers and sisters dropped out of school after the eighth grade. (

At the age of 18, Chavez joined the U.S. Navy and served in the western Pacific front during the end of World War II. In 1948, Cesar married Helen Fabela, who he had met while working the vineyards in Delano, they later settled in the East San Jose barrio of Sal Si Puedes, where Chavez later authored a book entitled "Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can)".

Following his return from serving in the U.S. Navy and his marriage to Helen, he returned to the fields as a migrant farm laborer, but he began to fight for change. That same year, 1948, Cesar took part in his first of many strikes in protest of low wages and poor working conditions. However, within several days the workers were forced back to the fields.

In 1952, Chavez met Fred Ross, who was an organizer for a group known as the Community Service Organization (CSO), which was a barrio-based self-help group that was sponsored by a Chicago-based group which had been formed by Saul Alinsky called the Industrial Area Foundation. Chavez soon became a full-time organizer with CSO, coordinating and spearheading voter registration drives, battling racial and economic discrimination against Hispanic residents, and organizing new CSO chapters across California and Arizona. Chavez became the national director of CSO in the late 1950's and early 1960's, but his dream was to create an organization to help farm workers whose suffering he not only empathized with, but had shared and endured.

After approximately 10 years of acting as the national director and continuing to organize Hispanic's throughout California and Arizona for the CSO, Chavez resigned his paid position, the first regular paying full-time job he had since being discharged from the Navy, as he was unable to convince the CSO to commit itself solely to farm worker organizing. Following his resignation he moved his wife and 8 children back to Delano, California where he became a full-time organizer of farm workers and founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) , and this newly founded organization grew rapidly. (

In 1965 the NFWA, headed by Chavez, began a boycott of grape growers in Delano, California, which lasted some 5 years. In 1966, during this boycott, Chavez led his followers on a 340 mile march to the state capitol in Sacramento, California to bring the plight of the farm workers to national attention. The march started with only 75 workers...
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