Helen Chavez met her husband, United Farm Workers of America cofounder Cesar Chavez, at an ice cream parlor in Delano, California, in the early 1940s, and along with having eight children with him, she kept the union's books and ran its credit union, walked in picket lines, and was even arrested. She died on Monday at a Bakersfield hospital of natural causes, with her family around her, the Cesar Chavez Foundation said. Chavez was 88.
Born Helen Fabela in 1928 in Brawley, California, she started working in the fields at age 14, the Los Angeles Times reports. She gave birth to her eight children over nine years, from 1949 to 1958, and seven of them are still alive. Cesar Chavez often had to travel, and Helen "absolutely held that family together," says Miriam Pawel, a Cesar Chavez biographer. She was averse to media attention, but "she was not meek in any sense," Pawel said. "People use the word 'fierce' to describe her. She had fierce eyebrows and was fiercely protective of her family." Helen Chavez accepted the Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton on behalf of her husband in 1994, a year after Cesar Chavez died.
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