What Is Cesar Chavez Day?

What Is Cesar Chavez Day?
A statue of Cesar Chavez is seen in San Fernando, Calif., on March 30, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Celebrated by many in California on March 31 every year, Cesar Chavez Day honors the enduring legacy of Mexican-American human rights activist Cesar Chavez.

In 2014, former U.S. President Barack Obama declared March 31 a national holiday while California recognized it as a state holiday.

In the Golden State, schools, government offices, and courts are often closed in observance of Cesar Chavez Day, and some other states—including Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island—also observe the holiday.

Cesar Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Arizona. At a young age, he and his family moved to California, working as migrant farmworkers. He later joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and returned home after two years.

Later, he participated in a Latino civil rights group, the Community Service Organization (CSO), and helped workers register to vote. He left CSO and co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) in 1962.

At the end of the decade, he organized strikes among farmworkers, the most well-known being the Delano grape strike, which used nonviolent tactics to counter the exploitation of farmworkers and force table grape growers in Delano, California, to fulfill the workers’ demands, according to the National Public Radio.

Through strikes and campaigns, he successfully achieved pay raises and better working conditions for farmworkers.

Meanwhile, as a labor leader, he was also critical of illegal immigrants working as “strikebreakers.”

At the age of 66, he died due to unspecified natural causes according to his family in media reports—while some believed his death was related to his hunger strikes as an autopsy didn’t yield conclusive results.

In 1994, a year after his death, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the national interests of the United States.