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Updated Jul 28, 2011, 1:36 pm
Richard Chávez, who joined his brother César Chávez to help form the United Farm Workers and fought for the rights of migrants, died Wednesday afternoon from complications following a surgery in a Bakersfield, Calif., hospital. He was 81.
Richard Chávez was born November 12, 1929 in Yuma to a family of migrant farm workers. He went on to become a successful carpenter but decided to leave his job to join his brother in forming the National Farm Workers Association - later the United Farm Workers - in the early 1960s.
As one of the founders of the union, he served as the organization's third vice-president from 1972 to 1984, and helped administrate collective bargaining agreements with growers.
In the 1970's he worked alongside César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, whom he never married but was his longtime domestic partner, organizing boycotts that forced grape growers in California and lettuce growers nationwide to sign contracts insuring higher wages and safe working conditions for farm workers.
César Chávez, Richard's second nephew and César Chávez's grandson, said Richard was "instrumental" in helping César Chávez begin the union in 1962.
"They both shared the same position about how they wanted to help the Latino community and support farm workers," Chávez said.
"Chávez was a true and profound inspiration to a generation of labor and civil rights activists, including me," said U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva in a statement Thursday afternoon:
His role in the farm worker struggle in the fields taught thousands of us, motivated and hungry for justice, how to organize and work for a better community. The original ‘Yes, We Can!’ – ‘Si, Se Puede!’ – was born from this struggle, and Richard was at the forefront. I was fortunate to call him a mentor and a friend. We marched together in Yuma, San Luis, and in Tucson, and he was always motivating, helping and encouraging the rest of us. Richard Chávez was a tremendous advocate for working Americans and a real icon to many of us. He was true salt of the earth. I will miss him.
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In 1962, Richard Chávez designed the Aztec eagle featured on the UFW's flag while César Chávez chose the black and red colors. He also helped construct the Forty Acres complex in Delano, Calif., which became the United Farm Workers' headquarters and site for some of the union's most important acomplishments, such as the signing of the first historic labor contract in 1970.
In 1966, Richard Chávez became the first director of the National Farm Workers Service Center. The center, now known as the César Chávez Foundation, helps build affordable housing for farm workers and operates "Radio Campesina", a radio station heard in parts of Arizona, California and Washington.
Although Chávez retired from the union in 1983, he remained active. He also served on the board for the César Chávez Foundation and the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Richard Chávez is survived by ten children from his last marriage and his partner Dolores Huerta, along with several grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
His brother César died in 1993.