SAN DIEGO - Cesar Chavez was a family man and you could see his peaceful ways even in the smallest of details.
His granddaughter, Cynthia Chavez Ybarra, said every Easter they had a family softball game and he was the pitcher for both sides – just to make sure it did not look like he was taking sides.
“Besides being my grandfather, he is a Mexican-American hero, who taught me very valuable life lessons,” said Chavez Ybarra. “He showed me how to be proud of who I am, where I came from, and a deep conviction for social justice.”
Chavez was an American farm labor leader, civil rights activist and with Dolores Huerta he founded the National Farm Workers Association, later becoming the United Farm Workers (UFW).
“He showed others that no matter where you came from, if you have the desire and determination to succeed, you will,” said Chavez Ybarra. “He was a man of great belief and fought non-violently for what was right.”
His movement gained support from people of all walks of life, religions and ethnicities. In fact, the Delano grape boycott involved Filipino farm workers.
Unfortunately, not everyone knows about Chavez, except for the statewide holiday which gives some of us a day off on Mar. 31, according to Pedro Anaya, who co-founded the Cesar Chavez Commemoration Committee in San Diego and helped gather signatures to create this holiday.
“If you really walk into a classroom today and ask students who Cesar was, many won’t know,” said Anaya. “The way he did things – he’s a perfect role model for the next Cesar Chavez, the next Dr. King and the next Gandhi.”
Currently, there is a petition to urge President Barack Obama to make Cesar Chavez Day a national day of service – similar to Martin Luther King Jr. Day and 9/11 – to continue educating youth about his legacy and his battle for social justice. As a senator in 2008, Obama made a call for a national holiday in Chavez's honor. According to the Cesar Chavez Foundation, eight states celebrate his birthday as an official holiday, including California and Colorado.
The petition on the foundation's website stated: “This day will serve not just to honor and remember the great work of Cesar Chavez, but to continue his central mission: that when workers are treated fairly, everybody benefits.”
The purpose of this national day of service would be to encourage community service – something Chavez Ybarra believes would make her grandfather proud.
“Volunteering is such a big part of his commemoration because he built his movement with volunteers,” said Chavez Ybarra. “And when some people started getting paid it was only for $5 a week (a de facto volunteering). You did not come to work for the United Farm Workers for the money; it was because you also believed in getting justice for farm workers.”
Anaya added: “If there is a national holiday people would ask the question ‘who was he?’ And when they hear his story they are going to be inspired to go out into their communities and do amazing work.”
Just a few days before Chavez’ birthday, the public will also be able to learn more about the civil rights leader with the March 28 release of the biopic “Cesar Chavez: An American Hero,” directed by Diego Luna, starring Michael Peña, America Ferrara and Rosario Dawson. The UFW will present a red carpet premiere and discussion of the film on Friday March 28, at the Reading Cinemas Gaslamp in Downtown San Diego.
In honor of Cesar Chavez Day, here is a list of volunteer opportunities around the region, starting with the San Diego Cesar Chavez Commemoration Committee, which organizes the Annual Cesar Chavez Breakfast on March 31: