Friday is César Chávez Day, but who was César Chávez?

Austin renamed East First Street to East Cesar Chavez Street in 1993.

Austin renamed East First Street to East Cesar Chavez Street in 1993.

Cesar Chavez speaks to UFW convention Cesar Chavez speaks at a United Farm Workers convention in 1992.[/caption]

The Spanish phrase Sí, se puede—"Yes, it can be done"—was used as a rallying chant long before it was echoed in the streets of today's protests on civil, worker and immigrant rights.

It was coined by a man named César Chávez during a 1972 fast in which the Latino American farm worker rights advocate protested a signed Arizona bill that denied farm workers the right to strike and boycott during harvest seasons.

Chávez' legacy as a leader among farm workers' unions is honored Friday on what would have been his 90th birthday.

Rallying for farm workers' rights

Despite high odds against him, Chávez succeeded in creating the first farm worker union in the U.S., a group that is still active today as the United Farm Workers.

According to Richard Jensen and John Hammerback, authors of The Words of César Chávez, the forthcoming leader quit his job with the Community Services Organization, a group dedicated to grassroots organizing, in 1962 and moved to Delano, California, to start a union among farm workers.

There he faced a challenge that pitted two groups of people against one another: The uneducated, poor, ethnic minority crop pickers versus the wealthy, powerful growers whose dominance held influence at the state political level.

"It was clear from the beginning that Chávez was a unique leader," the authors wrote.

Born in Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, Chávez was the Roman Catholic son of an auto-repair shop and poolroom owner. He spent his childhood as a migrant, changing schools often as he moved across California with his family. He joined the Navy in 1944 and was discharged in 1946.

Described as quiet, warm, intelligent, charismatic and exceedingly pleasant in The Words of César Chávez, Chávez delivered countless speeches throughout his career. In addition to organizing farm workers' unions, he coordinated voter registration drives, helped people obtain citizenship papers and pensions and worked to end police violence in barrios.

My goal has always been very simple,” he said of his public speaking; “Don’t preach to people, try to involve people and get serious."

In The Rhetorical Career of César ChávezJensen and Hammerback wrote that Chávez "redefined often-fearful farm workers so that they could act out their courage, dignity, idealism, dedication, and willingness to work hard and sacrifice for their cause without expectation of appreciation or material gain. In turn, these reconstituted farm workers would themselves become rhetors who embodied their message as they educated, persuaded, and at times reconstituted audiences."

Chávez died in 1993 in the small worker town of San Luis, Arizona, according to the Cesar Foundation.

César Chávez Street

In Austin, the street formerly known as First Street, which runs from MoPac to U.S. 183, was renamed in 1993 to honor the union organizer and Hispanic rights activist who died that year.

Girard Kinney, an architect who helped create the Great Streets Master Plan in downtown Austin, remembers the resistance that came with the name change. Kinney said he was a strong supporter of bringing César Chávez Street to Austin.

"There's always been a valid opposition to renaming numbered streets," he said. "If you say First and Congress, everyone knows intuitively what you're talking about."

Austin isn't the only place to designate the activist's name on a street sign. In Texas alone, roadways in San Antonio, Lubbock, San Juan, Houston, El Paso, Dallas and Edinburg have been renamed after César Chávez. Nationwide, streets in various California and Arizona cities and in St. Paul, Portland, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Boise bear his name.

Cesar Chavez Statue at UT The University of Texas installed a statue of Cesar Chavez on its Austin Campus in 2007.[/caption]

The University of Texas also honored the activist with a statue—located at West Mall on a site between Battle Hall and the West Mall Office Building—in 2007.

In 2014, former U.S. President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as César Chávez Day.

"The values César Chávez lived by guide us still," Obama wrote in the proclamation. "As we push to fix a broken immigration system, protect the right to unionize, advance social justice for young men of color, and build ladders of opportunity for every American to climb, we recall his resilience through setbacks, his refusal to scale back his dreams."

According to the Texas Comptroller's Office, César Chávez Day is an optional holiday in the state, meaning a state employee is allowed to observe the day.

On April 1 and 2 across various rural communities in the U.S., Chávez' Sí, se puede chant may be heard again, as farm workers are planning marches in his honor.
By Marie Albiges
Marie Albiges was the editor for the San Marcos, Buda and Kyle edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covered San Marcos City Council, San Marcos CISD and Hays County Commissioners Court. Marie previously reported for the Central Austin edition. Marie moved to Austin from Williamsburg, Va. in 2016 and was born in France. She has since moved on from Community Impact in May 2018.


Gov. Greg Abbott on July 27 issued an executive order extending the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election. (Screenshot of Sept. 17 press conference)
Lawsuit takes aim at start date for early voting as some Texas Republicans challenge Gov. Greg Abbott's order

A group of prominent Texas Republicans has embarked on a legal effort to undo the governor's executive order that extended the early voting period for the Nov. 3 election.

A photo of Elong Musk
After filing Travis County site plans, Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks to new gigafactory’s place in the company

Tesla has filed the intial site plans for a massive manufacturing plant in southeastern Travis County.

Straying from traditionals like cheese and pepperoni, Tony C's serves specialty pies such as eggplant, prosciutto and goat cheese, and the Truffle Shuffle. (Courtesy Tony C's Pizza & Beer Garden)
Restaurant Tony C's to open Sept. 24 in Round Rock and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from Central Texas.

Project Connect heads to Austin voters in November.
With Project Connect decision coming to voters, South Austin residents weigh local costs and benefits

The $7.1 billion public transit plan will head to Austin voters this November

(Graphic illustration by Rachal Russel/Community Impact Newspaper)
From New Braunfels to Cedar Park, Central Texas outdoor recreation shops scrambling to keep inventory

When combined with temporary state restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many local shop owners are speculating a perfect storm of low supply and high demand is the main reason for changes in an industry that has of late been turned on its head.

Austin ISD teachers have been able to teach virtually from their classrooms to start the school year. Some students will return to the classroom Oct. 5. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
Austin ISD teachers adjust to virtual learning as in-person demands approach

Austin ISD teachers and principals discuss the first few weeks of virtual learning.

Early voting runs from Oct. 13-30. Election Day is Nov. 3. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Find a polling location where you can vote early in Travis County

Voters can cast their ballots at any of the 37 early voting locations from Oct. 13-30.

Overall, the Southwest Austin market has sold 2.5% more homes in 2020 compared to 2019 through the month of August, with 3,204 total sales. (Kelly Schafler/Community Impact Newspaper)
DATA: Southwest Austin housing inventory drops to under 1 month after 523 sales in August

Overall, the Southwest Austin market has sold 2.5% more homes in 2020 compared to 2019 through the month of August, with 3,204 total sales.

Photo of students entering Dripping Springs High School with masks on
Dripping Springs ISD seeks to provide support for students who missed instruction during spring semester

Dripping Springs ISD leaders said they hope to close the gap for students experiencing learning loss during the spring semester of remote learning.

Mercury Hall will close in 2021. (Courtesy Mercury Hall)
Mercury Hall property cleared for 5-story apartment development

Mercury Hall will close after 2021, and a dense multifamily development is set to arrive in its wake.

City Post is located at 113 E. Eighth St., Georgetown. (Courtesy City Post)
Georgetown to get steakhouse, speakeasy plus more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.

Pflugerville's testing location is operated from 8 a.m.-noon Monday through Saturday where a maximum of 300 people can be tested each day at the site. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Coronavirus testing site in Pflugerville to move and more Central Texas news

Read the latest Central Texas business and community news.