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Cesar Chavez's death renews interest in his cause.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Cesar Chavez's sudden death in April has spawned nationwide interest in keeping his name and his commitment to improving the conditions for migrant farm workers alive. Across the country efforts are springing up to rename schools and streets after him. And public interest in the farm worker's nine-year-old boycott of California table grapes has also risen.

"He always said if the movement died when he did, then he didn't do his job right," said Jocelyn Sherman, manager of public relations for the United Farm Workers.

Sherman said she is scrambling to keep up with requests for a 13-minute video-tape about the boycott, which is based on health concerns for migrant workers who pick pesticide-treated grapes.

Officials with the grape industry counter the union's claims that there is renewed interest or participation in the boycott, pointing out that boycotts are hard to measure.

Meanwhile, a congressional bill that would keep companies from permanently replacing striking employees has been renamed the Cesar Chavez Workplace Fairness Act.

San Fernando made his birthday a holiday for city employees and Sacramento is expected to pass a similar measure.

A Bakersfield, Calif., school is among many that have been named for Chavez.

A Chicago memorial drew more than 800 people. The event ended with the group protesting grape sales at a local grocery.

In Los Angeles, parts of Sunset Boulevard and Brooklyn Avenue have been renamed Cesar Chavez Avenue.

And residents in Chicago, Kansas City and other cities are also trying to get streets renamed in honor of the Mexican-American leader.

The unassuming, down-to-earth manner of Chavez, mixed with a publicity-attracting penchant for fasting and boycotts, garnered him accolades from the likes of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the late Sen. Robert Kennedy.

Kennedy once flew by chartered plane to help end a 25-day fast by Chavez. The two broke bread during a Mass celebrated on a makeshift altar on the back of a flatbed truck.

Chavez was once a migrant worker who picked cotton, carrots and other crops in California. But he turned to helping improve the lives of other workers, drawing inspiration from the nonviolent principles of Mohandas Gandhi.

Migrant workers had been largely excluded from federal labor laws. Chavez was the first to successfully organize the workers, winning the first farm union contracts in history and also helping to get pay and working condition improvements.

For those who knew Chavez personally, it is a bitter irony that it is his unexpected death that is bringing new prominence to his life's work.

Roberto De La Cruz, a Chicago-based union organizer active in the grape boycott, worked with Chavez for more than 20 years.

"I believe God gives us people like Cesar and Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy," De La Cruz said. "And then he takes them away. And their name and message almost gets bigger after their death."
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Title Annotation:United Farm Workers
Author:Sanchez, Mary
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Jul 16, 1993
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