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Helen Fabela Chávez[edit]

Helen Fabela Chávez (born 1928) was a labor activist of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW). Aside from her affiliation with the UFW, she was also a first generation Chicana with "a traditional upbringing and limited education"[1].

Early Life[edit]

Helen Fabela was born on January 21, 1928, in Brawley, California. She was a first generation Mexican American in the USA. Her mother was from Sombrete, Mexico and her father from San Jacinto, Mexico. Both her parents immigrated to the USA separately after the Mexican Revolution and eventually married in Los Angeles, California, in 1923 [2]. Both her parents were migrant laborers and so Fabela was exposed to the hardships of labor early in life. After her father's death Helen was forced to quit high school in order to support her family; consisting of her mother, two sisters, and four brothers of whom she was the eldest.[3]. She worked in a grocery store and eventually made her way to working in the fields and vineyards full time [4].

Married Life[edit]

Helen met Cesar Chavez in 1942 while she was still a student in Delano High School[5]. The couple married six years later on October 22, 1948, in Reno, Nevada[6]. Helen was twenty years old and still the main support for her family. Eventually they settled in Delano. By 1959, the two became a family of ten with the total addition of eight children[7].

Union Organizing[edit]

Due to her father's involvement in the Mexican Revolution she was influenced from a young age to be involved in political activism[8]. Chávez held the more 'traditional'role ussually reserved women. The traditional model for union organizing for women included the ability to "juggle the competing demands of family life, sexual division of labor, and protest in a unique blend of union activism"[9]. All too familiar with working in the field, both Helen and César became involved in labor organizing. By networking with their local catholic priest, Cesar's name was passed to Fred Ross, an organizer of the Community Service Organization (CSO). Cesar initially rejected to work with Ross due to his Anglo background, but Helen persuaded Cesar to eventually became a full-time CSO organizer, and then national director in 1958.

Dual Commitments[edit]

Due to her emphasis on home life as a mother and wife majority of credit for the labor movement went to her husband. Unlike female labor activists of the time, such as Dolores Huertas, Helen's activities were considered "essentially auxiliary; she helped in the office, mimeographing fliers or sorting the mail, but usually worked at home after her domestic chores were done and the children were asleep"[10]. Helen's involvement in CSO activities is often overshadowed by her husband's political involvement, although, "the voluntarism of Helen Chávez and other women behind the scenes made the CSO one of the most successful associations for Mexican Americans in California during that time"[11]. She not only cared for and raised her eight children, but also worked tirelessly ten hours a day to support her family. Between family and work, she dedicated all of her spare time to assisting with CSO business. She involved herself in the movement in other ways like teaching literacy classes for migrant workers during voting drives, which would later assist them in gaining US citizenship. She was also in charge of handwriting the CSO daily reports that her husband dictated (CSO).

Later Involvements[edit]

When Cesar resigned from the CSO in 1962 to start the Farm Workers Association, which came to be known as the ' 'National Farm Workers Association' ', the family moved back to Delano. While Cesar was building the new union, Helen picked up a job working on a field picking grapes for under $2.00 per hour. The NFWA soon voted her to a full-time position as an administrator of the credit union; a position she was not keen to take due her lack of skills. She quickly learned book keeping and was a flawless financial record keeper for the association for more than twenty years [12]. In 1965, the NFWA merged with the ' 'Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee' ' (AWOC) to become the ' ' United Farm Workers Organization Committee' ' (UFWOC). Their efforts became known as ' 'La Causa' ' (the Cause). Using nonviolent alternatives for change such as protests, strikes, boycotts, pickets, fasts, and marches the UFWOC fought for fair labor practices. Helen Chávez was involved in the demand for Union recognition during all demonstrations and was arrested in 1966 for shouting ' ' Huelga! ' ' ("Strike!") at the W. B. Camp ranch.

Accomplishments[edit]

Helen Chávez mostly maintained the traditional role of a woman involved in such movements by assisting in the administrative parts of the process and by staying out of the public eye. Her most public moments were her "four arrests, two of which were widely reported" and although her "acts of civil disobedience have been few, her example has encouraged other Mexicanas and Chicanas to undergo arrest" for the sake of the greater good. [13]. Chávez challenged the role of women in the activist movement and provided a template for other Hispanic women who eventually joined the union efforts. Chávez's personal experience of the hardships of working the fields made her an invaluable part of the spirit of the movement. Her involvement and passion for the cause became a huge motivator for other Latinos to join the union efforts. In 1974, news of her efforts spread as far as Europe, and in 1994, a year after Cesar's death, Helen accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Cesar's honor. Due to the existing sexual division of labor in teh union and in society, few women are able or willing to relegate their personal lives or families to a secondary position in order to pursue union organizing. Helen Chávez still remains invisible - unrecognized and unappreciated by union members and supporters.


  1. ^ Tamara C. Ho, Helen Chavez. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos & Latinas in the United States Volume 1
  2. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose
  3. ^ www.jrank.org/cultures/pages/3706/Helen-Chávez.html
  4. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose
  5. ^ www.jrank.org/cultures/pages/3706/Helen-Chávez.html
  6. ^ www.jrank.org/cultures/pages/3706/Helen-Chávez.html
  7. ^ www.jrank.org/cultures/pages/3706/Helen-Chávez.html
  8. ^ www.jrank.org/cultures/pages/3706/Helen-Chávez.html
  9. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose
  10. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose
  11. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose
  12. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose
  13. ^ Traditional and Nontraditional Patterns of Female Activism in the United Farm Workers of America, 1962 to 1980 by Margaret Rose