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Barack Obama calls for Cesar Chavez holiday

March 31, 2008 | 11:14 am

Cesar Chavez Day.

That's what Barack Obama is endorsing: A national holiday in honor of the late, legendary activist for farmworker rights (pictured below).

Today is Chavez's birthday -- and Hillary Clinton's campaign was the first to draw attention to that this morning, issuing a statement celebrating the 81st anniversary of Chavez's birth (he died on April 23, 1993).

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But Obama, who has struggled to overcome Clinton's significant advantage among Latino voters in state after state, sought to one-up his rival for the Democratic presidential nod by joining the call for creating a national holiday to commemorate the father of the United Farm Workers.

"As farmworkers and laborers across America continue to struggle for fair treatment and fair wages, we find strength in what Cesar Chavez accomplished so many years ago,'' Obama said in a statement from his campaign. "And we should honor him for what he's taught us about making America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation.

"That's why I support the call to make Cesar Chavez's birthday a national holiday. It's time to recognize the contributions of this American icon to the ongoing efforts to perfect our union."

Clinton, in her statement, said: “Today, I join millions of Americans in commemorating the life of one of our great civil rights leaders, Cesar Chavez. Driven by his strong desire to ensure better quality of life for migrant farmworkers across the country, Chavez helped found -– along with Dolores Huerta –- the United Farm Workers of America, arguably one of the first effective farmworkers unions in the United States.''

Huerta, 77, endorsed Clinton ...

almost a year ago and has campaigned personally for her in several states, including California and Texas.

Clinton, in her statement, continued: "Under his leadership -- highlighted by nonviolent protest -- thousands of farmers across the country were able to secure improved wages and benefits, humane living and working conditions, and better job security. Through his lifetime of service, he has paved the way for many, and provided inspiration for countless others."

Eight states commemorate Chavez' birthday in some fashion. In California, all state offices are closed, but local government facilities and public schools are open.

The other states that officially honor Chavez are Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

-- Mark Silva and Don Frederick

Mark Silva of the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau writes for the Swamp.

Photo: Associated Press

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