“Yes we can” was the simple yet powerful campaign slogan used by, now President, Barack Obama, but long before the 2008 elections these words were used as a call to action. “Sí se puede” was the battle cry of farm workers fighting for fair wages in the 1970s. Organized by civil rights activist César Chávez along with Dolores Huerta, the labor union, United Farm Workers of America or UFWA, (which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW), initiated a boycott of grapes which went on for five years and garnered national support.
Why is the history of César Chávez important for children to know?
There are a lot of lessons to be found in his story.
A bilingual role model – César Chávez was a Mexican-American. At home they spoke Spanish, which he was forbidden from speaking at school, (a common rule enforced at that time.)
Perseverance, determination and strength – After losing their home due to unfair dealings, the Chávez family moved to California and became migrant workers. Chávez himself left school after 8th grade so he could contribute more financially to the family. Despite the fact that he lacked a complete education and though he came from humble roots, Chávez went on to do great things and educated himself through reading books later in life.
Promoting peace – Influenced by both Gandhi and his Catholic faith, Chávez fasted many times, once for 25 days, in part, to bring attention to his promotion of nonviolent protest tactics.
Standing up for what you believe in and making a difference – Thanks to the UFW, today their 15,000 members enjoy better benefits on the job, while descendants of the generation that fought for and won their rights, learned how to organize and demand equality.
Although I wish I could leave it at that, the ugly truth is that a new generation of migrant workers currently labor in poor conditions. Maybe it’s time for another César Chávez to rise up.
Chávez’s birthday, March 31st, is now recognized as “César Chávez Day” – Looking for ways to celebrate with your children? Here are a few book recommendations and links to kid-friendly activities.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez - Kathleen Krull (Author), Yuyi Morales (Illustrator)
(in Spanish: Cosechando esperanza : la historia de César Chávez, translated by F. Isabel Campoy y Alma Flor Ada)
A Picture Book of Cesar Chavez – David A. Adler (Author), Marie Olofsdotter (Illustrator).
César : ¡Sí, se puede! Yes, we can! - Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (Author), David Diaz (Illustrator)
Cesar Chavez (On My Own Biography) – Ginger Wadsworth (Author), Mark Schroder (Illustrator)
• Print & color worksheet of César Chávez from Apples4theTeacher.com.
• The Chávez Foundation website offers plenty photos and educational videos about the Farmworker’s Movement and César Chávez himself – (recommended for older children.)
• Printable activities in Spanish and English from EnchantedLearning.com.
• Biography of César Chávez for children from EnchantedLearning.com.
• César Chávez craft ideas from EHow.com.