Essential immigrant workers and their families gather in front of the Federal Building in Milwaukee for the Day Without Immigrants call to action. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
State representatives from the Latino Caucus are collecting co-sponsors to proclaim March 31 as César Chavez Day. This commemorative holiday would be an uplift of the countless migrant workers who serve Wisconsin’s dairy industry, and it would honor the valiant history of migrant labor movements in Wisconsin.
In the 1960s, Wisconsin was a home for migrant justice and activism during the same period as Chavez’s organizing work in California. Jesús Salas was the leader of the Obreros Unidos (United Workers) in Wisconsin, and Bill Smith was the administrative assistant at the time. Primarily made up of Mexicanos from Texas, and migrants from the south, the Obreros Unidos looked west to the United Farm Workers Association for inspiration.
The life of César Chavez transcends any one cause or struggle. In an interview, Jesús Salas shares how he called César Chavez, after an activist had connected the two. Salas said to Chavez: “We want to do what you’re doing. We want to protest the working and living conditions.” Following their conversation, Obreros Unidos organized a five-day, 80-mile walk from Wautoma, Wisconsin, to the Capitol to draw attention to their demands for a minimum wage for agricultural workers of $1.25 per hour, improved housing, and public bathrooms for migrant workers to use.
Wisconsin migrant leaders like Jesús Salas are the reason we have the United Community Center and UMOS (United Migrant Worker Opportunity Services), among other services. The Obrero Unidos efforts and those of migrant workers in Wisconsin and all across the country deserve to be celebrated.
César Chavez was a unique and humble labor leader, and a great humanitarian and communicator, who influenced and inspired millions of Americans from many diverse walks of life to seek social justice and civil rights for the poor and disenfranchised in our society.
On March 31, César Chavez’s birthday, this rich migrant history in Wisconsin will be commemorated, and César Chavez Day should be made an official state holiday.
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