Helen Fabela Chávez, American labor unionist, Died at 88

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Helen Fabela Chávez was born on January 21, 1928, and died on June 6, 2016.

She was a labor activist for the United Farm Workers of America (UFWA).

Apart from her affiliation with the UFW, Helen was a first-generation Chicana with “a traditional upbringing and limited education.

Helen Fabela Chávez met César Chávez in 1942 while she was still a student in Delano High School in California.

Early after his World War II service ended in 1945, Helen started spending more time with her.

The couple was married in a civil ceremony on October 22, 1948, in Reno, Nevada.

She was 20 years old at that time.

Both of them the two returned to San Jose, California for a church wedding.

Together they departed for a two-week honeymoon before settling into their new lives together.

While Helen was trying to start her own family, Helen remained the main bread winner for her siblings and parents.

The newlyweds resided permanently in Delano, California.

The next few decade, the two grew to a family of ten with the total addition of eight children (Fernando, Sylvia, Linda, Eloise, Liz, Paul, Anna, and Anthony) and a later total of 31 grandchildren.

Because of her father’s involvement in the Mexican Revolution, Helen Chávez was influenced from a young age to be involved in political activism.

Helen Fabela Chávez held the more ‘traditional’ role usually reserved for women.

The traditional model for union organizing for women included the ability to “juggle the competing demands of family life, sexual division of labor, and protest in a unique blend of union activism”.

Herself and César soon became involved in labor organizing.

After networking with their local Catholic priest, his name was passed to Fred Ross, an organizer of the Community Service Organization (CSO).

Initially, he refused to work with Ross due to his Anglo background, but she persuaded him to eventually become a full-time CSO organizer.

Helen became the National Director of the CSO in 1958.

Because of Helen Chávez’s emphasis on home life as both a mother and a wife, the majority of credit for the labor movement went to her husband.

This was unlike female labor activists of the time, such as Dolores Huerta, her activities were considered “essentially auxiliary; she helped in the office, mimeographing fliers or sorting the mail, but usually worked at home after her domestic chores were done and the children were asleep”.

Chávez mostly maintained the traditional role of a woman involved in such movements by assisting in the administrative parts of the process and by staying out of the public eye.

She died at a Bakersfield hospital

Helen Fabela Chávez passed away at 88 yrs old.

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