Each year on March 31, celebrations in observation of César Chávez Day are held in many states around the country. The holiday, held on Chávez's birthday, pays tribute to the labor leader's commitment to securing basic rights for migrant workers. To date, César Chávez Day is an optional holiday in nine states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island. It is an official state holiday in California, where in 1965 the farmworker movement first took hold when Chávez's National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) joined Filipino American workers in the Delano grape strike; these efforts provided the spark for what later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).
California has celebrated César Chávez Day since 2001, largely due to the efforts of Los Angeles volunteers who lobbied for a holiday to commemorate Chávez and his legacy. In 1999, state senator Richard Polanco introduced SB 984, which would make March 31 known as César Chávez Day. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis on August 18, 2000, and the following spring, Chávez's birthday was celebrated for the first time as a state holiday.
For 2012, a number of activities, including parades, entertainment, and service projects, are being planned throughout California and other states for César Chávez Day. In San Luis, Arizona, for example, local organizations are planning a weekend-long event that includes a public health forum arranged by the farm worker advocacy group Campesinos Sin Fronteras (Farmworkers Without Borders); a parade of up to 500 horses and riders; and a music festival honoring Chávez. Many universities are also hosting special events in commemoration of Chávez's birthday. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, for instance, is sponsoring educational events on Chávez and a day of service; and San Jose State University will mark its first official César Chávez Day celebration with a morning of planting crops in the community.
Find out more about the life of César Chávez—from his humble roots as a migrant worker to his achievements as one of the most influential labor leaders in the 20th century—by reading the complete Feature Story on the Latino American Experience. If you are not already a subscriber, click here for a free trial.