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Helen Chávez, labor activist, passes away at 88

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Cesar Chavez Military Honors
Helen Chávez, widow of César Chávez, watches as her husband's ceremonial burial flag is presented at a U.S. Navy ceremony in Moreno Valley at Nuestra Señora de La Paz in Keene, Calif. last April.

Helen Fabela Chávez, labor activist and widow of United Farm Workers of America president César Chávez, died Monday afternoon in a Bakersfield hospital at age 88.

With a number of her seven surviving children, 31 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren at her side, the Chávez matriarch departed leaving a legacy that shifted the landscape of labor rights in America. Leading farmworkers who united with her husband to demand humane working conditions and fair wages, Chávez helped define a movement and establish a benchmark for workers’ rights.

In a tribute to Helen Chavéz in 2010, LeRoy Chatfield, founder and publisher of the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project, remembered her impact:

“Helen Chavéz is the only woman I know who was arrested and jailed for three days for shouting “Huelga!” on a farmworker picket line, had her picture taken with Charlton Heston, became close friends with Ethel Kennedy, had a meeting with the president of the United States, and a private audience with the Pope.”

A press release from the UFW said plans for commemoration and services would be released Tuesday.

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