California is set to become the first state in the nation to honor Cesar Chavez, the former leader of the United Farm Workers Union, with an official holiday.
California lawmakers Thursday approved a measure to make March 31, Chavez's birthday, a paid holiday for roughly 210,000 state workers the first formal state holiday in America to honor a Latino or an organized labor figure. Gov. Gray Davis said he will soon sign it into law.
Public schools and courts are not included in the holiday. But most schoolchildren are expected to spend the morning learning about Chavez's life as a Mexican-American farm worker turned civil rights figure through a special voluntary, state-funded curriculum.
UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said Chavez, who died in 1993 at age 66, would humbly have considered the holiday a tribute not only to himself, but to all "campe-sinos" in their struggle for hu-mane wages and working conditions.
Chavez gained attention in the 1960s as leader of the UFW, staging a massive grape boycott to bring national attention to wealthy growers' barbaric treatment of poor farm hands.
In doing so, he became more than a labor leader for Latinos, particularly Mexican Americans, who took his mantra of "Si se Puede," or "Yes we can," as a greater call to action. His early fights were marked by bitter and often brutal altercations between farmers and workers. But Chavez, an advocate of nonviolent protest, prevailed, winning numerous concessions from farmers.