Helen Fabela Chavez, widow of civil rights activist Cesar Chávez, passed away Monday (June 6) at a Bakersfield hospital surrounded by many her seven surviving children, 31 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Helen played a vital role in helping her husband build the first enduring farm workers union U.S. history by organizing with and sustaining Chavez during the 31 years he led the United Farm Workers of America.
Helen, a humble girl from Delano, used her fierce determination to help change the lives of thousands of farm workers and millions of others who were inspired by La Causa (their efforts became known as The Cause).
Cesar and Helen removed themselves from a comfortable middle-class life in East Los Angeles circa 1962, and moved back to Delano to begin organizing farm workers. Enduring a great deal of hardship, Helen often had to raise their eight children by herself while Cesar was on the road. She returned to fieldwork while Cesar organized up and down California’s vast Central Valley; on weekends Cesar and some of the older children joined her.
While Helen didn’t speak in public or talk with reporters, she was fiercely determined and held deep convictions. In September 1965, while members of Cesar’s young Latino union debated whether or not to join a grape strike begun that month by members of a largely Filipino union, Helen settled the debate by fervently asking, “Are we a union or not?” Her consistent humility, selflessness, quiet heroism and fiery perseverance were at the heart of the movement she helped build.
May she rest in freedom.