Cesar Estrada Chavez, noted Latino community leader and advocate for the rights of farmworkers around the country, was honored yesterday with the announcement of a national monument inspired by his lifetime of service and work on behalf of others.
President Obama made the announcement for the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument on the grounds of Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady of Peace), the property that once served as the headquarters for the United Farm Workers, an organization spearheaded by Chavez, and also the site of his former home and workplace. Many years in the making, the monument was created in consultation with the National Chavez Center, the United Farm Workers of America, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, and members of Cesar's family.
Recently, communities around the country also celebrated that legacy with commemorations and service of their own. March 31, Chavez' birthday, has also become known to many as Cesar Chavez Day and is a legal holiday in the state of California. The Cesar Chavez Foundation, through grants provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), was amongst those staging service activities for the day. These activities focused primarily on the issues of education and community well-being that Cesar dedicated himself to during his own life.
A first-generation American, Chavez was born in 1927 just outside of Yuma, AZ. After their family lost their farm during the Great Depression, Chavez spent his youth traveling throughout California, working as a migrant farmworker alongside his family. Following service in the United States Navy, Cesar eventually settled in East San Jose, CA, where he built upon his own experiences as a migrant worker and worked tirelessly the rest of his life to improve the well-being of farmworker and Latino families.
The SAFE AmeriCorps Program (Serving America's Farmworkers Everywhere) also held activities in honor of Cesar Chavez Day on issues of health, safety, and opportunity for farmworker communities in cities from Modesto, CA, to Wilson, NC. Balladolid Lopez, a SAFE AmeriCorps member serving in her hometown of Madera, CA, noted that her work left her, “feeling part of something bigger than just [myself, and was] something that brought the whole Madera community together.”
Each year, SAFE AmeriCorps members dedicate their service to more than 20,000 farmworkers and their families, providing pesticide safety and heat stress education, collecting food and clothing donations, organizing health fairs, tutoring and mentoring youth, and recruiting other volunteers to serve. Their work is a fitting reminder of Cesar's own thought that, “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life."
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