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President Biden, Farmworkers and Advocates Remember César Chávez’s Legacy: ‘Let’s Keep Moving Forward’

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Luis Magaña, a veteran farmworker advocate from California’s Central Valley, celebrated this past weekend’s César Chávez Day by keeping the United Farm Workers (UFW) co-founder’s vision for farmworker justice alive. Magaña, the grandson of a Bracero migrant worker, organized with Chávez in the 1980s. Today, he visits essential farmworkers to help them advocate for their rights. 

“Since the 1960s, United Farm Workers brought change to the farm fields of America,” CBS Sacramento reports. In recent years, farmworkers have won major union victories in states including California and New York. “However, Magaña said the new generation of migrant workers, many of whom come from indigenous parts of Mexico and Central America, face the same old challenges,” including wage theft and workplace injuries. “He feels compelled to pick up where his predecessor left off.”

“It’s like César Chávez’s legacy stayed put in history books and not in the farm fields where workers remain,” Magaña told CBS Sacramento. Magaña had previously said that his commitment to farmworker justice made him a target of farm bosses. “He said he instead became more dedicated to the cause and became a full-time advocate for farmworkers,” WBAL reported in 2021.

Throughout the César Chávez Day weekend, the UFW account lifted up the first-person stories of essential farmworkers, who shared how labor wins have improved their day-to-day lives feeding America.

“Let me share with you about César Chávez,” said Rigoberto, a farmworker and UFW member. “The situation was that not so long time ago, the working conditions for the farmworkers were deplorable. The situation was that there were no toilets for the farmworkers, so they had to go in the bathroom in the field. I can imagine the humiliation they must have felt. Someone had to right this wrong and that person was César. Thanks to the workers, to the warriors who accompanied him in his struggles, he was able to make the change.”

For others, César Chávez Day 2024 was a day they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. Over two dozen immigrants spanning eight nations were sworn in as U.S. citizens at a naturalization ceremony at the César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, California. The site, a U.S. National Monument and former UFW headquarters, is the resting place of the labor leader and his wife, Helen. 

Among the new Americans was Argenis Salazar, who is originally from Venezuela. He said he’s excited that he’ll be able to vote during a presidential election year, KERO reported. “I’m so happy because my two daughters are citizens already, and they really wanted me to be a citizen –to become a citizen,” Salazar told the outlet. “I am so happy. You can imagine how happy I am.” Paul Chávez, one of the surviving children of César and Helen Chávez, was also at the ceremony.

“One of the things that my father believed in was that people needed to be involved in their communities,” Chávez told KERO. “There’s some obligation to get involved in the civic and cultural and political affairs in their community, and to stand up for what they believe in. So we’re gonna welcome them and urge them to be good, active citizens.”

In a statement declaring March 31 “César Chávez Day,” President Joe Biden urged a recommitment “to fulfilling the fundamental vision of La Causa: to give every worker the dignity and respect they deserve and ensure everyone has a fair shot at the American Dream.”

“César Chávez defined extraordinary moral courage,” the president said. “He was a migrant farm worker who spent long, strenuous hours working in the fields. He and his fellow workers received unlivable wages and labored in unjust working conditions. Even then, a man of unyielding faith and an immovable spirit, Chávez saw every reason to pursue what he knew was the truth of this country: The people who put food on America’s tables and sustain our nation deserve their fair share.”

“Alongside legendary activist Dolores Huerta, he founded the United Farm Workers,” President Biden continued. “Ever since beginning their work in 1962, this union has led legendary marches, strikes, and boycotts. Chávez himself knocked on doors for years and fasted for weeks on end to bring light to issues facing farm workers. Together, they made historic progress, like earning farm workers the right to collectively bargain and ensuring safe working conditions and better pay. As a leader, Chávez not only empowered tens of thousands of farm workers to make their voices heard, he also inspired an entire generation of Latino leaders to forge a better future for all of us.”

Despite their essential work feeding America, millions of farmworkers are also vulnerable to employer exploitation and deportation due to our outdated immigration system. At least half of the nation’s roughly 2.4 million farmworkers are estimated to lack legal immigration status. In California, that number could be as high as 75%. These often overlooked farmworkers fed us during the pandemic and were among the essential workers who risked their lives to keep our vital food sector running. While many U.S. workers could shelter, that’s just not possible for farmworkers. “You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom,” one advocate said that same year.

“I have been working for Huntington Farms since 1970, and we have more than 40 years in the union,” said Jose Isabel, a farmworker. “And thanks to César Chávez, here we are still working with benefits, insurance and more. Let’s keep moving, compañeros. Let’s keep moving forward.”