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Cesar Chavez through the years
October 8th, 2012
05:09 PM ET

César Chávez an inspiration to president's campaign slogan and movements

By Cindy Y. Rodriguez, CNN

“¡Si se puede!”

Many people may not realize that the origin of “Yes We Can!” President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign slogan, was a direct translation of rallying cries of the farm workers movement led by César E. Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers, an organization devoted to defending the rights of farmhands and field workers across the country.

Opinion: Obama hits a foul by honoring Cesar Chavez

Chavez fought for fair wages, humane treatment and safer working conditions for California's farm workers through nonviolent marches, boycotts and fasts.

The UFW motto has been widely adopted by labor unions and civil rights movements, like the Service Employees International Union Justice For Janitors program, and immigration reform protests in 2006.

The slogan was coined during Chavez’s 24-day fast in 1972 for social justice in Phoenix, with the help of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of UFW.

In the 1972 film“¡Si se puede!", filmmakers Rick Tejada-Flores and Gayanne Fietinghoff document the fast that inspired the phrase. In May 1972, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill that limited collective bargaining and outlawed boycotts and strikes at harvest time.

After Gov. Jack Williams signed the bill into law, Chavez began a fast. According to the film’s site, supporters discouraged the fast, arguing with him:“Cesar, no se puede, no se puede.” Chavez would reply. “Si, si se puede.” Yes, it can be done.

On Monday, President Obama traveled to Keene, California, to announce the César E. Chávez National Monument. The 120-acre site is Chavez’s former home and workplace from the early 1970s until his death in 1993.  It includes his grave site and national headquarters of the United Farm Workers.

The Mexican-American farm worker, labor organizer and civil rights activist will be the first Latino honored since the 1700s. The event is seen as an effort to court Latino voters, with Election day just weeks away.

Obama to announce Cesar Chavez monument, send message to Latinos

Earlier this year, President Obama decreed March 31 as Cesar Chavez Day. The White House honored and invited 11 local leaders, activists, farm workers and professors who exemplified Cesar Chavez’s core values to speak at a panel called “Champions of Change” for the 85th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s birthday.  While not a federal holiday, grass-roots organizations continue to advocate March 31 as a national holiday.

In 2008, then-Sen. Obama made a call for a national holiday in Chávez's honor. "Chávez left a legacy as an educator, environmentalist and a civil rights leader. And his cause lives on. As farm workers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what César Chávez accomplished so many years ago. And we should honor him for what he's taught us about making America a stronger, more just and more prosperous nation, "

Ten states mark his birthday with a holiday. More than 40 schools, buildings and parks across the nation bear his name, along with street signs across the country.

Why are we still naming things after César Chávez

Also, after years of the family turning down Hollywood’s offers to make a film about Chavez’s life, a biopic is on the way.  Mexican-American actor Michael Pena, who appeared in "Babel," will be playing the lead role. He will be joined by award-winning actresses America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson and directed by Diego Luna.  No release date has been set.

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Filed under: History • Latino in America • Politics • Who we are
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. shaun

    CAN WE BUILD IT? YES WE CAN. its from Bob the builder. He stole his slogan from a kids show

    October 21, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Earthling

    kEiTh- what planet are you from? On behalf of all earthlings – welcome.

    October 21, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tom in San Diego

    Mr, Chavez did some great things! Its sad that Obama keeps trying to act like he was part of that movement...He is just playing our Hispanic heritage and after the vote, he will continue to abuse our people...

    October 21, 2012 at 2:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. White Latino

    Thirty-six percent of Latinos identify their race as white (according to the Pew Hispanic survey.) Remember, HIspanic/Latino is an ethnicity, not a race.

    October 15, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelley

      Most people don't remember Chavez as we farmers in the San Joaquin Valley do. When he would roll up to a ranch or farmer with his strike goons, and bully and intimidate the farmers workers to strike, or when he and his goons would come into our apricot field and break our picking ladders, buckets and produce boxes. So the legitimate workers could not work or earn and we lost our crop because of him. Our workers were hired by labor contractors who took a cut from the labors and Us. The real problem was with the labor contractors, not us. the price of peace work was set by the contractor and not the farmer. But Chavez made a deal to leave the contractors alone and make the strike against the farmer, He was payed off with cash from the contractors who had there hands into labor and farmers pockets. Chavez did more harm than good in the eyes of many who were just trying to make a living. Farmer and labor alike. The guy was a real smooth operator who made millions off the back of Mexican labor. and ruined many farmers along the way.

      October 18, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Voter Suppression

    Voter Suppression: Another thing Florida's Governor Rick Scott and Willard Romney have in common.

    October 15, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. doodls

    I thought Bob the Builder inspired the slogan "Yes, We Can".... I've often wondered why Obama hasn't been sued for coyp right infringement.

    October 14, 2012 at 2:49 am | Report abuse |
  7. Darrell Rutz

    If filp-floping Mittey wins the middle class will be the poor class,and the poor will be starving to death!!!

    October 11, 2012 at 1:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      Keep listening to the America haters.

      October 12, 2012 at 9:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. HHR

    More interesting is how much HUGO Chavez inspired the Obama campaign. Si, se puede! Investigate the similarities in the the way the two campaigns were done. Algo interesante por nos nosotros.

    October 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thom

      Hugo Chavez and Cesar E. Chavez are two different people. I think you should do some research on Hugo, the president of a latin american country and Cesar E Chavez, the American civil rights leader and labor leader.

      October 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Christine Garcia

    Dolores Huerta did not just help co-found the UFW, she was the lobbyist, organizer, backbone of the organization. "Si Se Puede" was Huerta's motto and call and needs to be credited to her appropriately.

    October 10, 2012 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. WhiteLatino

    Cesar Chavez was a Republican and was against illegal immigration from Mexico. He was not a Mexican. Cesar Chavez was born and raised in the USA. He served in the US Navy in WWII and has a US Navy warship named in his honor. Cesar Chavez was honored by the USA with a national monument for being a great American.

    October 9, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thom

      Actually, it is not a warship....it is a navy vessel that transports humanitarian materials. #FactCheck

      October 11, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  11. nyokie

    No surprise hes fawning over a Saul Alinsky trained socialist! This so called president is saran wrap clear on his radical leanings.

    October 9, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  12. vet4life63

    Does anyone know the origin of " To each according to need, and from each, according to ability"? I bet Obama knows. Another of his Idols. Hint Initials are KM

    October 8, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. indep200

    "Yes, We can!" also derives from Bob the Builder on SPROUT TV.

    October 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Doug

    where does one begin.....

    For starters what does "fair wages" mean? Who decides what "fair wages" are the workers/activists or the market place? And which one wold you prefer??

    October 8, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      The market place has proven to not be where wages can be set fairly. Using a fair assessment of what middle class is and making a decision about what kind of country we want to live in is the only way. The bigger the middle class is, the happier the people will be. The more money they make, the more rich folks there will be. Minimum wage should be at least the bottom of the middle class.

      October 8, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Tr1Xen

    Why doesn't he just go with "Workers of the World, Unite" this time around? It would be very fitting for Obama.

    October 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      I would go for that, America needs to unionize again.

      October 8, 2012 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  16. mikle

    Anything to win another 4 years. I never see man doing so clever to win with so little experience and use car salesman approach.

    October 8, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Romualdus

    How quickly we tend to forget he was motivated also by the saying Sal Si Puedes ("Get Out If You Can"), a program that Chavez assisted with that was run by Fr. McDonnell. Many of the ideas Chavez exemplified came from his time working with McDonnell and are clearly part of Catholic Social Teaching. President Obama should not try to pick up this phrase again since it is so far from anything Cesar Chavez's faith gave him.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • B D

      The idea that this is the only Latino recognized since 1700 is completely false. Just for one famous person recognized - Pancho on the Cisco Kid, Leo Carillo has a California State Park, the California area is full of monuments to Latinos. This is pure racism and political opportunism.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darla

      I think that would be a very appropriate slogan for Obama! " Get out when you can". Or even better yet...how about just " GET OUT".

      October 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Report abuse |
  18. ObjectiveGuy

    Well, you knew Obama had to have stolen it from somewhere! He hasn't had an original thought in his entire life. And, no, parroting what George Soros tells him to say and do does not count as original.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

      Conservatives like to suppress and steal votes. And they like to steal people's money too. Just ask Mitt and Bernie Madeoff with people's hard earned money.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
      • Informed

        Madoff was a democrat! He supported Chuck Schumer and other democratic candidates. Check the public records for yourself!

        October 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
  19. 4sanity

    Let's just remember what Cesar Chavez worked for: Fair wages, humane treatment and safer working conditions for California's farm workers through nonviolent marches, boycotts and fasts.

    That's a goal every American should be proud of.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keith

      Every American should want that for their countrymen.

      October 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thom

      Agree!!!!!

      October 11, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  20. anonymous

    You mean it wasn't Bob the Builder?
    "Can we build it?" "Yes we can!"

    I think though that this year Bob the Builder has switched parties
    Obama – "You didn't build that"
    Romney – "We built it"

    October 8, 2012 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • indep200

      "We built it!" was a campaign slogan by Ronald Reagan in reference to the Panama Canal.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Alina77

    I always thought, Yes We Can came from kids cartoon 'Bob the builder"....

    October 8, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |
  22. dan citera

    Justice and liberty are more than just a slogan, like Mitt now verbalizes. Freedom is for everyone to be free, not for Exxon to make billions while modest tax payers subsidize them. Liberty if best served while a student obtains a loan, guaranteed by the US government, free from banking "fees" that keep him or her in debt for decades after graduation. Freedom is not to be slaves of the insurance and pharmaceutics, that raise their feed 15% every single year, "just because they can"
    We all loose or freedom each time any of us is denied his or hers. Our freedoms, not corporate freedoms are important.

    October 8, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Meddleone

      I completely agree everything you said. I'm just not sure what you meant about Mitt?? His view is the complete opposite.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chat Pata

      Yes, justice and liberty are verbalized by Mittens as slogans only. He wants more subsidies for big oil companies like Exxon which are already floating in cash, and to provide them government property for free to dig. On the other hand he wants the little subsidies to green energy companies that are already struggling against China.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  23. drewg

    it originated in the back-office b/s machine known as the Obama campaign

    October 8, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  24. ramble3144

    Debate PROVES that Libs are s-o-o-o much smarter than Conservatives. Except Obama was dopey and Romney highly intelligent. Hmmmmmmmm

    October 8, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chat Pata

      The opposite of Lib is Con. Yes libs are smarter than cons, but cons are much better liars than the libs. The only lib to lie on camera was Bill Clinton, but he public did not know he was lying. In this case public knew he was lying and yet Mitt Romney had the guts to lie "On your face".

      October 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • i'm confused

      How exactly does a complete lack of personal integrity make someone like Mittens The Flip Flopping Clown "highly intelligent" in your opinion?

      October 8, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |