César Chávez, Delano, CA 1968. Source: Time.com

César Chávez with grape pickers in support of the United Farm Workers Union, Delano, CA, 1968. Time.com

César Chávez was a renowned civil rights leader who fought for fair wages and class equality, particularly within the Latino community. He dedicated his life to community organizing and defending the rights of farmhands and field workers after seeing the injustices that this community faced. Chávez championed the principles of pacifism, and his famous affirmation, “Sí se puede,” is still alive among those who nonviolently defend their rights.

Chávez was born near Yuma, Ariz., on March 31, 1927. At age 10 he moved with his family to California, where his parents became migrant workers. His fight for the Latino community took root in 1952 when Chávez joined the Community Service Organization and became a coordinator for voter registration drives, fighting racial and economic discrimination. He adopted the notion that political involvement among communities was the best way to bring about the social changes they sought. This tactic would be vital for Chávez’s future struggles for immigrant rights.

Chávez’s ultimate goal during his tenure with the Community Service Organization was to establish a farmworkers union. When his proposed pilot project was rejected, Chávez resigned from the Community Service Organization and created a union known as the National Farm Workers Association.

Chávez was famous for using nonviolence to fight for economic and social justice. A notable example of this, and one that would propel Chávez’s work, was the Delano Grape Strike. This strike included a boycott of table grape growers in California for their refusal to raise worker wages. It lasted more than five years, and it was the first of many boycotts, walkouts and protests Chávez led that brought awareness to farmworkers and the Latino community. This strike in particular ignited Chávez’s serious commitment to farmworkers’ rights, and he merged his organization, the National Farm Workers Association, with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to create United Farm Workers of America.

Chávez worked for the benefit of others. He believed that all human lives should be treated with dignity and longed for the day that justice and fairness would become a reality for all Latinos.

What does all this have to do with citizenship?

As we think about Chávez’s impact today, his birthday, we can’t help but imagine the contributions people would be able to make in their communities by becoming U.S. citizens. Being a citizen grants you voting rights, and voting gives you the opportunity to make your voice heard by selecting candidates that you think will best represent you, your family and your community.

Becoming a citizen can engage you in the work César Chávez started and can give you the opportunity to be a part of the community he dreamed of creating.