Helen F. Chavez, the widow of farmworker labor icon Cesar Chavez, will be buried Monday alongside her husband, with whom she raised eight children and helped lead a grape boycott that spread across the country.
Chavez, who died Monday at age 88 of natural causes, was remembered Tuesday as every bit her husband’s equal in commitment to the United Farm Workers union, but who insisted on staying out of the spotlight.
“She really was the rock of the movement,” said Marc Grossman, a former Chavez aide and spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. “She inspired as many people as Cesar did.”
Tuesday, the Chavez family announced an all-night vigil in Helen Chavez’s memory beginning at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Villa La Paz Conference and Education Center, 29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road in Keene. A Mass of Christian Burial will be Monday at 9 a.m. at St. Malachy Catholic Church in Tehachapi. Burial will immediately follow at Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene.
“Helen Fabela Chavez, a devoted wife and partner to the late Cesar Chavez, was a powerful and inspiring force in her own right,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement Tuesday. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said Chavez’s “perseverance will never be forgotten.”
Born in 1928 in Brawley, Helen Chavez and her family moved to Delano when she was eight years old. She met Cesar Chavez in the mid-1940s and the two married in 1948 after his discharge from the U.S. Navy. They were living a middle-class life in East Los Angeles in 1962 when they decided to return to Delano and begin an effort to organize farm workers.
“While Cesar, Dolores Huerta and others were on the road championing a burgeoning movement, Helen stayed behind to raise a family and served as the heart and soul of the United Farm Workers union,” Art Pulaski, executive-secretary of the California Labor Federation, said Tuesday. “To this day, her mark on labor organizing and farmworkers’ rights remains indelible.”