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Cesar Chavez Day
Every Friday, we hold our Bay Area Street Pantry (BASP) program. It is a free food distribution held in Oakland, California, USA. However, today, we are closed. The state of California recognizes March 31st, Cesar Chavez Day, as a state holiday, and therefore all state offices, schools, and libraries are closed. We operate within the Oakland Public Library system and are respectfully observing this day with them.
We want to spotlight Cesar Chavez on his day. His efforts for farmers directly impacts our work with food sovereignty and even what we do within the BASP. We invite you to take a moment to read about his work, remember what he did, and perhaps even learn something.
Cesar Chavez was born in Arizona in 1927 to Mexican-Americans. During the Great Depression, his family lost their farm and they moved to California, becoming migrant farmers. Chavez became a migrant farmer at the age of 10 and lived in several migrant camps growing up. Chavez passed away of natural causes in 1993.
Cesar Chavez served 2 years in the Navy before he started his activism and labor rights work.
Chavez contemplated his state of poverty throughout life and how his finances never equated to the amount of labor he put out. These thoughts would lead him to start efforts for worker’s rights. In 1962, he co-founded National Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta. This would become the first successful U.S. union for farmers. Chavez was progressive and aggressive in his fight for the rights of farmers, including wage rights and respect for them. However, he also was anti-violence and inspired by Gandhi. He exercised marches, anti-violence protests, walkouts, sit-ins, boycotts, and strikes to send effective messages. Chavez’s efforts would inspire farmers all over the U.S. to fight for rights, as well as workers in other industries and fields to unionize and/or demand better working conditions and to be treated with dignity.
Chavez also fought for Latino rights from a young age. He experienced much discrimination and even violence for being in poverty and of Mexican descent in his youth. At one point he was the director of the Community Service Organization, which is a Latino civil rights group.
California became the first state to declare Cesar Chavez Day a state holiday in 2000, although some cities within the state had recognized this holiday since the mid-90’s. A few years later, a handful of other states & cities would also allow for this day to be observed as a holiday. In 2014, President Obama declared March 31st as Cesar Chavez Day, making it a national holiday; it is not, however, a federal holiday.
Currently, Texas & Colorado allow this to be an optional holiday. 7 states have cities that observe this holiday or have declared it a festival holiday: Arizona, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.