Washington, April 24, 2003 -- The late Mexican-American civil rights leader and union organizer Cesar Chavez has been honored with a new U.S. postage stamp, commemorating a common man with an uncommon vision of non-violent social change and service to others.
The stamp was unveiled April 23 at a ceremony in Los Angeles, California, where that state's governor, a U.S. congressional delegation, the city's mayor, representatives from the U.S. Postal Service, and family members hailed Chavez, his life story, and his efforts to improve the lives of the less fortunate.
U.S. Postmaster General John Potter issued a statement describing Chavez as someone who "understood the hardships of working people and fought hard to bring about justice and quality of life for them and their families."
The late U.S. Senator and Attorney General Robert Kennedy once called Chavez "one of the heroic figures of our time." A second-generation American with only an eighth-grade education, Chavez left school to become a farm worker after his family lost its farm in the U.S. state of Arizona, and thus its means of support during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Cesar Chavez's son, Paul, said in an interview that the family forebears migrated in the early 1900s from Mexico's Chihuahua state to Yuma, Arizona. Throughout his youth and into adulthood, Cesar Chavez worked all across the southwestern United States, where he was exposed to the hardships of the backbreaking manual labor of farm work in lettuce fields and vineyards.
Paul Chavez said in his remarks at the Los Angeles ceremony that even a decade after his father's passing, "his example and values continue to resonate with people of good will -- just as they did during the 40-odd years that he marched, fasted, and stood with the less fortunate."
In 1962, Chavez resigned from a regular paying job to establish the first successful farm workers' union in U.S. history -- what became known as the United Farm Workers of America. For decades, he worked to win farm workers fair wages, medical coverage, pension benefits, humane living conditions, and numerous other basic protections.
Against seemingly insurmountable odds, Chavez negotiated the first union contracts for farm workers in the mid- and late 1960s, using strikes and boycotts to achieve his goals. His efforts resulted in the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which remains the only law in the United States that protects the right of farm workers to organize into unions.
Chavez's motto was "it can be done" ("si se puede" in Spanish), which encapsulated his approach to life. In 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 1991, Mexico awarded Chavez "The Aztec Eagle" (Aguila Azteca), its highest civilian award to people of Mexican heritage who have made major contributions outside Mexico.
The new postage stamp features a portrait of Chavez against a background of grape fields. The back of the stamp says: "Civil rights leader Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) founded the United Farm Workers of America. A tireless advocate for justice and equality for all people, he dedicated his life to working in service of others."
California Gov. Gray Davis, fifth from right, and Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn, next to Gray, join area representatives in the U.S. Postal Service's display of the Cesar E. Chavez commemorative stamp in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 23, 2003, the 10th anniversary of Chavez's passing. "It is a proud moment for the Postal Service to pay tribute to this great man who stands as a true American hero," said Benjamin Ocasio, postal vice president.
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