CHAVEZ
Sal Veder  /  AP file
Cesar Chavez, who died in April 1993, fought for the smallest of causes: respect, fair wages, medical coverage and humane living conditions for hundreds of thousands of farm workers.
updated 3/31/2005 2:11:43 PM ET 2005-03-31T19:11:43

On the 78th anniversary of Cesar Chavez's birth in Arizona, farm workers and many other Latinos continue to honor the late labor and civil rights leader. But some say too many young people have no idea who he was or what he helped accomplish.

Teachers, parents and former farm workers in Arizona and throughout the nation are battling to keep Chavez's memory and message of community service relevant to young people.

They say it's difficult because most Latino youths are detached from the vineyards and vegetable farms where Chavez made his name and landmark improvements.

"Young people just don't know," said 72-year-old Gustavo Gutierrez, who organized farm workers and toiled with Chavez at the height of the labor movement in the 1960s. "We had to struggle to go to a public swimming pool. They don't have to do that. We had to struggle to go to desegregated schools. They don't have to do that."

Chavez, who died in April 1993 in San Luis, was born on March 31, 1927, near his family's farm in Yuma.

He became a migrant worker when he was 10, after his family lost its farm in the Depression.

Chavez dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family. Throughout his childhood and early adult life, he traveled across the Southwest and worked farms and vineyards.

In the early 1960s, Chavez worked hard to establish the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America.

He fought for the smallest of causes: respect, fair wages, medical coverage and humane living conditions for hundreds of thousands of farm workers.

In Phoenix in 1972, Chavez captured the nation's attention when he went without food for 24 days in opposition to a just-passed law that banned farm workers from striking or boycotting.

This month, some students in Tolleson, Phoenix and Yuma schools learned about Chavez through a special program from Cesar E. Chavez Foundation that aims to teach youngsters about the labor and civil rights leader.

The students watched videos and wrote essays about Chavez's lessons of community service, non-violence and responsibility.

Chavez's grandson, Cesar Chavez II, talked to students Wednesday from a Phoenix elementary school district.

"You guys have a chance to be smarter than Cesar if you stay in school," he said. "You can change more than Cesar did."

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