Son of Cesar Chavez speaks at USF

Fernando Chavez has dedicated his life to maintain the legacy of his revolutionary father, Cesar Chavez.

“My father believed that a person’s wealth was not measured by money, status or power,” Fernando Chavez said. “It was better measured by the legacy we leave behind for those we love and those we inspire.”

Chavez spoke to an audience of about 75 students and Tampa citizens Thursday night in the Special Events Center.

According to, Chavez has dedicated his career to carrying on his father’s legacy through public interest work.

Chavez became an attorney after receiving his law degree at the University of Santa Clara in 1975. He dedicates himself to civil rights issues.

In one of his cases, he represented 12 people in a lawsuit against their grower, who made them live in bondage inside a cave with other families. He carries on his father’s legacy by dealing with issues of social equality.

Chavez’s father founded the first labor union for farm workers more than 30 years ago. It was the first union in American history, and according to Chavez, it created a sense of confidence and empowerment within the migrant community.

The union carried out successful strikes and boycotts using the nonviolent principles of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. These boycotts led to the first industry-wide labor contracts in American agriculture.

Chavez recalls his father not only as an important leader, but also as a dad. When he was a small child, his father bought him an advanced book. It was not until Chavez went to college that he was able to understand and read the book.

“My dad was a very well-read individual,” Chavez said. “He said that if you read enough, you were educated.”

Cesar Chavez, whose motto was “Si se puede,” or “It can be done,” was not wealthy.

When Chavez was only 10 years old, his own family became migrant workers after losing its Arizona farm during the Great Depression. Subsequently, Chavez spent most of his youth laboring in the fields and vineyards across southwest America.

According to Fernando Chavez, his father was offered a job in the peace corps to live abroad.He figured such a decision would bring about a good job, a bigger house, a personal driver and chef, along with plenty of bedrooms for each child. But was not ready to leave because he would have had to stop organizing a farm workers union.

“He said that and a tear rolled down his cheek,” Chavez said. “It was his life, it was his compassion, it was his life’s work.”

So the family stayed.

“We never owned a home, my dad didn’t even own a car, and I don’t think he ever made more than $6,000 a year,” Chavez said. “When he died in 1993 at the age of 66, he left the family no money. Yet more than 40,000 people marched behind his plain pine casket at his funeral.

Chavez said nearly 13 years after his father’s death, many people have been drawn to his inspirational spirit.

“Cesar Chavez was a civil rights leader, he was a farmer, he was a labor leader, he was a religious and spiritual figure, he was a community servant, he was a social entrepreneur, an environmentalist and a consumer activist all rolled into one,” Chavez said. “Cesar Chavez was a common man with an uncommon vision for humankind.”

In 2000, the state of California asked for the family’s approval in making Cesar Chavez’s birthday a day off for its citizens. The family decided instead to make it a public service day. The children learn about Chavez by performing public services that are age and grade appropriate. Six states, including Illionis, Arizona and Rhode Island, acknowledge public service day.

“His legacy is one of commitment,” Fernando Chavez said. “Times are different now, but I think that the principle is the same, and that principle is a – sense of community.

Cesar Chavez died in 1993. In 1994, he was posthumously awarded the highest civilian honor in America, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“He never thought of himself as anything but a farm worker,” Fernando Chavez said.