First Lady Dr. Jill Biden traveled to California on Wednesday, meeting with the family of late Latino American civil rights and labor leader César Chávez to tour a vaccination site and thank community volunteers.
The day’s event took place at “The 40 Acres,” the former headquarters of the United Farm Workers union created by Chávez in the 1960s. The site is now operating as a community vaccination center, which has administered over 3,000 COVID-19 vaccinations to farm workers during the month of March alone.
The first lady said her husband was greatly inspired by Chávez’s lifelong commitment to equality, noting the president’s placement of a bronze bust of the icon in a prominent position in the Oval Office behind Biden’s desk.
“César Chávez is such an inspiration to so many of us — and especially to my husband,” Dr. Biden said, later adding: “Chavez understood that, no matter the obstacles, when people come together, united in cause, anything is possible.”
“Yes, we can—sí, se puede!” she continued, parroting the phrase Chávez popularized during his civil rights campaign.
Earlier in the day, the president proclaimed March 31, 2021 as “César Chávez Day,” imploring Americans to “observe this day as a day of service and learning, with appropriate service, community, and education programs to honor César Chávez’s enduring legacy.”
Chávez was born near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, and grew up in a Mexican-American family that traveled around California picking lettuce, grapes, cotton and other seasonal crops. He left school in seventh grade to work full time in the fields and later turned to organizing for farmworkers’ rights.
In 1962, Chávez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which became the United Farm Workers of America.
Farmworkers were crucial to agribusiness in California, which grows nearly half the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables, but pay was poor and conditions often miserable.
There had been protests and small strikes, but the UFW, with Chavez as its figurehead, helped organize the farmworkers on a large scale and turn their cause into a movement. The UFW staged nonviolent strikes, boycotts and protests that garnered immense publicity and had a significant effect in California.
That spirit lives on in the president’s policy proposals, Dr. Biden said.
“For César, faith and love were at the heart of his action: hunger strikes, boycotts, the fight for civil rights,” Dr. Biden said Wednesday. “The United Farm Workers wasn’t only fighting for better wages. It has always been a moral movement – one of justice and humanity for all, but especially for the agricultural workers who are mostly unseen.”
“And that’s exactly the kind of immigration policy (Biden) is working to build—one that treats children and families with dignity and creates fair pathways to citizenship, including for essential workers,” she added.
Paul Chávez, César Chávez’s son, said despite the trials farmworkers still have to endure, “we are filled with hope and encouragement.”