March 31, the birthday of the late Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chavez, isn’t quite a national holiday. The post office will be open. But it is a holiday in several states. And it’s Cesar Chavez Day by official proclamation of the White House. Chavez, as Obama wrote last year in his annual proclamation, grew up the son of migrant farmworkers and “rallied a generation of workers around ‘La Causa,’ marching and fasting and boycotting for fair pay and protections on the job.” Today, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez released a statement calling Chavez “one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century.”
There’s a campaign to make March 31 a national holiday akin to the one for Martin Luther King Jr., who once told Chavez that the two of them were “brothers in the fight for equality.” Obama himself, as a U.S. senator in 2008, supported the idea. So far, though, there hasn’t been enough support in Congress. As a next best, Obama has been declaring Chavez’s birthday Cesar Chavez Day each year. And in 2012 he proclaimed his home and workplace, Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, a national monument. Just as the Roman Catholic church can take years to canonize a saint, so the U.S. government years can take years to bestow full honors on those it recognizes as, in effect, secular saints.