One of the inspirations for Under the Feet of Jesus, Cesar Chavez was a renowned labor organizer and union leader, who fought to secure rights for migrant workers. He is considered by many to be the single "most important Latino leader in U.S. history" (Tejada-Flores). His use of non-violent tactics and appeal to morality successfully propelled the workers' movement into the national spotlight.
Cesario Estrada Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927. Battered by the Great Depression, the Chavez family lost their homestead in 1937 and were forced to migrate to California in 1938. Once in California, they worked as migrant laborers. Cesar and his siblings attended 37 different schools throughout their childhood ("The Story of Cesar Chavez"). Understandably, he did not enjoy school; speaking Spanish was prohibited and Cesar endured racism and discrimination ("The Story of Cesar Chavez"). After completing the eighth grade in 1942, Cesar Chavez ended his formal education. Instead he dedicated his time to earning money to support his family. In 1946, at 19 years old, he joined the U.S. Navy, which was still segregated, for a two-year enlistment.
By the 1950s, Cesar Chavez was working as a community and labor organizer in California. In 1953, he was hired by the Community Service Organization to help recruit and educate illegal immigrants and migrant workers. In 1962, Cesar launched a union known as the National Farm Workers Association to help negotiate increased pay and the right to organize for migrants. His new union joined the Agricultural Workers Association in a strike against grape farms in California. The two unions would eventually merge into the United Farm Workers in 1972. In 1966, the strikers completed the 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento to help bring attention their cause. Two years late, in 1968, Cesar Chavez launched the national boycott against California grapes, which at its peak included 13 million supporters all across the country (Tejada-Flores). Chavez successfully promoted the use of non-violent tactics, drawing inspiration from Ghandi and St. Francis. His moral approach earned the sympathies of many Americans, as did his decision to campaign in cities. Chavez understood that rural interests would be against unionization, but that urban residents were more likely to support the farm workers. Accordingly, Chavez promoted the boycott in urban centers. Cesar Chavez' leadership helped secure higher pay and the right to organize for migrant workers throughout the country.
Throughout this period Cesar Chavez completed various fasts on behalf of migrant laborers. In 1968 Chavez survived without anything but water for 25 days to support the unions. He repeated this feat in 1972 for 24 days. He superseded his previous efforts in 1988 by fasting for an unbelievable 36 days ("The Story of Cesar Chavez"). Chavez continued supporting progressive causes. Beyond his work for migrant laborers, he spoke against the Vietnam War in the 1970s and supported the fight for gay rights in the 1980s. He died on April 23, 1993, at the age of 66, in a small village in Arizona. It is thought that his previous fasts may have contributed to his decline in health and ultimate death ("Cesar Chavez").