A Not-Quite National Holiday: Eight States Celebrate Cesar Chavez Day

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American labor leader and co-founder of the United Farm Workers (formerly known as the National Farm Workers Association) Cesar Chavez (1927 - 1993) speaks at a rally, Coachella, California, mid to late 1970s.

Cathy Murphy/Getty Images

Some call him the Martin Luther King Jr. of Latino civil rights, but only eight states choose to honor him.

Born on March 31, 1927 and raised on farms in the southwest U.S., Cesar Chavez was a prominent labor leader and civil rights activist, serving as a voice and community organizer for California migrant workers. A Mexican-American, he sought to reform discrimination and co-founded the United Farm Workers, America’s only agricultural union.

Through that organization he aimed to improve living conditions for migrant workers by organizing strikes and boycotts in order to gain rights.  He’s best known for his work with unions and played an instrumental role in passing the  California Agricultural Labor Relations Act in 1975 which gives workers collective bargaining rights. Chavez died in 1993 but remains an icon for grassroots organizers.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of union protests in Wisconsin)

California, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin observe Cesar Chavez day by closing schools and state offices. In a statement yesterday, President Obama endorsed Cesar Chavez day by asking Americans “to observe this day with appropriate service, community, and educational programs to honor Cesar Chavez’s enduring legacy.”

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