Students celebrate Cesar Chavez Day

March 31, 2009 7:18:49 PM PDT
Tuesday is a state holiday that marks the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the co-founder the United Farm Workers Union. The late labor leader and civil rights activist was remembered around the Bay Area.

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At the celebration, there were middle school students who can only read about Cesar Chavez life, but his lasting commitment has touched their lives.

"To inspire us for what we believe in and what we can do," said Romino Casas, a student.

"He wants us to all work together to work toward peace, just like what he did long ago," said Elisha Feliciano, a student.

The students were treating Chavez's 23-year-old grandson, Anthony Chavez, like a rock star. He said his grandfather had a message of gratefulness.

"The gratefulness for the gift of life and how do you treat a gift? You treat it with respect and care," said Anthony.

It was in the 60's when Chavez and Dolores Huerta formed what would become the United Farm Workers. It was about the right to organize, about pay and working conditions. Strikes and grape boycotts usually brought contracts. Attorney Diana Lyons worked with Chavez for more than 20 years.

"The most difficult times when it looked like the whole world was against us, he would say 'Just mark this on your calendar and look at today in 12 months from now and you'll realize it was one of the best things that ever happened to the union,'" said Lyons.

Eva Royale was a UFW manager for years. She says when he turned 65, Chavez didn't know what to do with social security money.

"He never earned $5,000 a year. To him it wasn't about the money. It was about trying to make change and make life better," said Royale.

Like other civil rights leaders, Cesar Chavez has schools, streets named after him and this state holiday. His legacy is change. His work is yet to be finished.

"One of his biggest issues right now would probably be immigration reform," said Anthony.

He was committed to restricting immigration.

"I think he would also continue working with farm workers," said Anthony.

And each year his stature grows.

"A simple little guy who spoke the truth about what he thought," said Lyons.

Statement by the President to Commemorate Cesar Chavez's Birthday:

President Barack Obama made the following statement to commemorate Cesar Chavez's birthday:

"Today, on what would have been his 82nd birthday, Cesar Chavez's legacy as an educator, environmentalist, and as a civil rights leader who struggled for fair treatment and fair wages for America's workers is important for every American to remember.

Having begun as a farm worker, Cesar Chavez eventually co-founded the United Farm Workers and struggled to provide hundreds of thousands of people with better working conditions and the chance to live a better life. The cause of fair treatment and fair wages for America's workers lives on today through the work of countless others.

Chavez's rallying cry, "Si Se Puede" - "Yes We Can," was more than a slogan, it was an expression of hope and a rejection of those who said farm workers could not organize, and could not take on the growers. Through his courage, Cesar Chavez taught us that a single voice could change our country, and that together, we could make America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation."

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