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March 31, 1927 - April 23, 1993
Born on a small farm outside of Yuma, Arizona, César Chávez attended school only up to the eighth grade and soon began to work with his family throughout the fields of California. Chávez served in the Navy and returned to the San Joaquin Valley of California where he became involved in community action programs. He trained with Fred Ross and became a community organizer. During this time he met Helen Favela in Delano, and they married and began their own family.
Still, Chávez longed to help the campesinos. He knew well the injustices that his family and others faced while working in the fields: unsafe and unsanitary conditions, no water, no breaks and no respect – neither for the adults nor for the children working.
Together with Dolores Huerta, his family and others, Chávez formed the United Farm Workers and was able to organize a strike against the growers to obtain union contracts and improve conditions for agricultural laborers. Chávez fasted, marched, rallied and boycotted in his ongoing commitment to social change.
While defending the Union, fighting back a lawsuit from a giant California lettuce grower, Chávez passed away in his sleep on April 23, 1993 in his hometown of Yuma. In 1996, this same lettuce grower came to the table to sign a contract with the UFW.
In 1991, ASU West professor, Dr. José Náñez, nominated Chávez to receive an Honorary Doctorate on behalf of the University. Chávez was honored with the honorary degree and participated in commencement ceremonies in the Spring of 1992.
Since his untimely death in 1993, Chávez has been recognized around the world with numerous honors, including the United States' highest civilian honor, bestowed upon him posthumously by President Clinton in 1995. In addition, on September 18, 1997, LIFE Magazine inducted Chávez into the LIFE Hall of Heroes, calling Chávez "the Ghandi of the fields, who rose to become one of America's greatest forces in the labor and civil rights movements." A national monument in Keene, Calif. was dedicated to Chávez in 2012 by President Obama.
Today we honor Chávez for his unselfish commitment to the principles of social justice and respect for human dignity – a model and inspiration for us all. Our future is bright as we will continue the commitment to celebrate Chávez' life and bring in the community – our community – to Arizona State University.