Cesar Chavez’s Migrant Farmworker Crusade (by Marialy Perez)


11.2 Students analyze the relationship among the rise of industrialization, large-scale rural-to-urban migration, and massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.

1. Know the effects of industrialization on living and working conditions, including the portrayal of working conditions and food safety in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

11.6 Students analyze the different explanations for the Great Depression and how the New Deal fundamentally changed the role of the federal government.

5. Trace the advances and retreats of organized labor, from the creation of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations to current issues of a postindustrial, multinational economy, including the United Farm Workers in California.

11.8 Students analyze the economic boom and social transformation of post–World War II America.

2. Describe the significance of Mexican immigration and its relationship to the agricultural economy, especially in California

Key Ideas and Details

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

2. Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.

This topic aims to explore and develop the intricate role that Cesar Chavez played in the farmworker’s labor movement. With that being said, this activity will study Cesar Chavez’s beginnings pre-movement including his general family background and morals to get a better sense of the entirety that is Cesar Chavez the man. Then, the experiences of farmworkers in the labor force will be described including photographs of the terrible working conditions which will provide insight as to why the labor movement started. After, the Filipino’s involvement within the movement will be explained since in most academic spaces, this part of history has been overpowered by the presence of Chavez. Lastly, the contributions of Cesar Chavez, the civil rights activist and leader, will be given including his organizational tactics and whether or not they were effective. This will also include songs written at the time that reflect the public sentiment of the farmworkers. All throughout, organizations and figures will be named and described in terms of relevancy.

Although this activity will have a lot of emphasis on Chavez’s leadership, the ultimate objective of this activity will be to present students with the basic foundation of this movement in relation to Cesar Chavez. This way, at the end of this activity, students will be able to develop their own analytical judgements on the movement and on Chavez being the primary historical figure recognized for the labor movement to being attributed with a national holiday today. For example, they will be at liberty to argue whether Chavez was the right person for the movement, whether the movement was necessary, the pros and cons, how the movement could’ve been effective sooner, etc.

Students will achieve an overall understanding of Cesar Chavez’s personal trajectory in leading the farmworker’s movement and with it all the challenges he faced and the tactics that he fostered.

• Who is Cesar Chavez?
• What was the farmworker labor movement and who were the other people/minority groups involved in this movement?
• What were the initial challenges Cesar Chavez faced on a deeper level in order to carry out the farmworker’s labor movement?
• What strategies/tactics did Cesar Chavez deploy in his organizing?
• What were the accomplishments and setbacks of Chavez’s Delano strike that farmworkers experienced?

• Migrant Worker: an individual who is required to be absent from a permanent place of residence for the purpose of seeking remunerated employment in agricultural work
• “Viva la Huelga”: means “Long Live the Strike” which was the battle cry for Chicanx farmworkers
• Chicanx: People of Mexican descent living in the United States
La Causa: means “The Cause” and it refers to a movement to organize Mexican American farmworkers
Bracero Program: a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated on August 4, 1942, when the United States signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico that brought millions of Mexican guest workers to the United States.
• Manong: means the first-born male in a Filipino nuclear family or it can be used to title an older older male relative. In this case, it refers to a group of Filipino farm workers who instigated the farmworker’s labor movement

César Chávez Day is observed in the United States on March 31 each year to commemorate not only his birthday but also his work and dedication to social justice. Particularly in California, Cesar Chavez Day is a state holiday in which government offices, schools, and most businesses are closed giving people the day off. However, this holiday should not only be seen as a vacation from work. There is real socio-economic and political meaning behind this day and Chavez’s contributions to the workforce especially for migrant and minority (mainly Chicano) communities. As a result, it is important for students to learn at a young age who Cesar Chavez was, what he did that earned him the title for a national holiday, streets, schools, songs, statues in his name, and the impact he had on the history of the United States.

In summary, Cesar Estrada Chavez was the husband of Helena Chavez and the son of Juana and Librado Chavez born in Yuma, Arizona in 1927. During the Great Depression, his family lost their farm in Arizona and then moved to the Imperial Valley in California where Chavez at only the age of 12 had become a migrant farmworker with the rest of his family. Life as a migrant farmworker was not easy. Not only did children struggle at school because of their constant migration but they also faced racial discrimination and prejudice. For Chavez, the shock of that transition, fighting for jobs that paid scant wages, was as bracing as the cold outside the tent he often called home. Memories of being poor, brown and homeless in California would drive Cesar for much of his life.1 Chavez spent a lot of time migrating for work between Northern and Southern California to earn money for his family working in the fields until the 1950s when he joined the Community Service Organization (CSO). The CSO registered voters, offered English classes, and filed discrimination claim, all in an effort to teach Mexican Americans to exert power. 2 In the early 1960s, he left the CSO to carry out his objective of organizing farmworkers. Thus, he co-founded the National Farm Worker’s Association (NFWA) which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW) with Dolores Huerta in which they fought for the rights of workers and requested adequate pay and safe working conditions. Unlike previous organizations before his, Chavez’s organization was one of the first successful farmworker’s union. Through the UFW, Chavez orchestrated strikes and boycotts through non-violence principles.

“El Corrido de Cesar Chavez” song
Song Lyric Sheet with Translation
K-W-L Chart
Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa
Image #1
Image #2
Image #3
Image #4
Image #5
Image #6
From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement
Cesar Chavez: The Organizer’s Tale
Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement
“Delano Manongs” Documentary
“Legacy of Cesar Chavez”
“The Legacy of Cesar Chavez”
• Paper and pens/pencils


Day 1:

• Play the song, “El Corrido de Cesar Chavez” and pass out the worksheet that contains the song’s lyrics with translation.
• After listening to the song, have students discuss to the person next to them how they feel about the song and what they think it is about for 2-5 minutes.
• Once time is up, regroup the class as a whole to share their thoughts on what they heard from their peers. Once discussion is over, ask them what they predict the lesson plan of the week will be centered on by citing references from the song.
• After the discussion is over, give the students a K-W-L (Know, Want to Know, Learned) handout and have them fill out sections “K” & “W” in regard to Cesar Chavez / the farmworker movement / grape boycott.
• When students finish filling out the indicated sections, have them share out loud what they wrote to the entire class.
• For homework, have students read Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa (pages 7-12, 23-27, 40-54).

Day 2:

• Put students in groups of 4. Give each group an image.
• Have students analyze the image assigned to their group and have them find at least one way it related to yesterday’s assigned reading.
• Make sure students’ analysis of the image is focused on the Who? What? Where? aspects of the image, facial expressions/emotions, surroundings, clothing, etc?
• Once every group is done, have each group go up to the front of the class to demonstrate their assigned picture and share their analysis. Every member of the group must contribute speaking. Allow other students in the rest of the class to ask questions about the presenting group’s image or make a comment on how they perhaps interpreted something from the image differently than what the group proposed in order to hear multiple interpretations/perspectives.
• For homework, assign a 1-2 page reflection response in which students are to express how their lives are distinct from the lives of migrant farmworker children and adults and in what ways the conditions of migrant farmworkers have changed or stayed the same now versus then either educationally, socially, politically, or economically. Personal familial anecdotes are encouraged.

Day 3:

• Have students share their homework response from last night to the person next them and afterwards open up the discussion to the whole class.
• After the discussion, have students read pages 24-32 in the book, From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement.
• Once students are done reading, form groups of 3 and assign each group a page from the readings. Have one student write a short summary of the page and write a key quote from their section, the second student will then write a paraphrase of it, and the third student will write why it’s a significant quote and what does it mean.
• After groups are done with their activity, have one group pass their paper to another group that will then comment on the work by either agreeing/disagreeing and why with the group’s work or by adding onto the analysis. Repeat this process one more time.
• For homework, give students the primary source, “Cesar Chavez: The Organizer’s Tale” and have them read it. They must also read pages 1-8 in, Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. In addition, students will prepare for a seminar style discussion the following day by having 3 questions and notes from their reading ready.

Day 4:

• At the beginning of class, as a warm-up, students are to write a quick write-up answering the following prompt: List as many “techniques” as you can that Cesar Chavez used to prepare for the Delano Strike.
• Students will spend the entire class period discussing last night’s assigned reading in a seminar style and will be expected to draw from the other readings in order to support their arguments in the seminar discussion.
• As the teacher, make sure students touch upon Chavez’s techniques that they wrote about in their quick write-up and whether or not students thought these techniques were efficient or not and why. Other discussion questions could include: If the students were in Chavez’s situation what would they have done similarly or differently? What were the pros and cons of the movement’s tactics?
• For homework, have students watch the documentary, “Delano Manongs”.

Day 5:

• Pass out the article, “Legacy of Cesar Chavez” by Richard Ybarra (pages 1-5) as well as the article, “The Legacy of Cesar Chavez”, and have students read them both.
• Once every student is finished reading the articles, have students fill out section “L” of their K-W-L Handout from Day 1 of this lesson. Afterwards, allow students to share what they learned as a result of this week-long activity.
• The next activity will be to split the class into two groups: one group in support of Cesar Chavez being solely recognized for the farmworkers’ movement in a state holiday (Cesar Chavez Day) and the other group against it declaring that the holiday’s name should be changed to a broader and more encompassing term so that everyone who was involved in the movement receive recognition as a collective effort and not as an individual. The latter group must also come up with a new name for the holiday. Both groups should support their positions using evidence from the readings to strengthen their arguments.
• Lastly, play the song from Day 1 again. Ask students: How has what you have learned these last few days changed the context or your interpretation of this song and how do you feel about this song now?
• Assign students their final assignment on this section which will be a 3-5 page essay in which students must analyze the development of Cesar Chavez from illiterate farmworker to a highly recognized organizer/leader.

Chavez, Cesar. The Organizer’s Tale. Ramparts Magazine, July 1966.

Ganz, Marshall. 2009. Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. Cary: Oxford University Press USA – OSO. Accessed May 7, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Garcia, Matt. From the jaws of victory: The triumph and tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement. Univ of California Press, 2012.

Levy, Jacques E., Ross, Fred, and Levy, Jacqueline M.. 2007. Cesar Chavez : Autobiography of La Causa. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Accessed May 7, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Pawel, Miriam. The crusades of Cesar Chavez: A biography. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014.

Ybarra, Richard. “Legacy of Cesar Chavez .” Farmworker Movement Documentation Project , Vida Nueva, 2 Feb. 2006.

1Pawel, Miriam (2014). The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography.pg. 12
2Ibid, 26.