On Easter, Google’s doodle celebrates ... Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez speaks at the United Farm Workers political endorsement conference held at Trade Tech College in Los Angeles on Sept. 7, 1980.
(Los Angeles Times)

He was the leader of a movement that inspired the downtrodden all across the land, but not the one whom some expected to grace Easter Sunday’s Google doodle.

On Sunday, Google’s doodle over its search bar featured a beatific portrait of Mexican American labor icon Cesar E. Chavez -- rather than a celebration of Easter, the day Jesus rose from the grave. That riled some Christians and Easter fans for what they perceived as a slight. (See a selection of tweets below.)


Chavez, who died in 1993, would have been 86 on Sunday. (Read his obituary in the Los Angeles Times here; see The Times’ photos of him here.) The state of California has declared March 31 of every year to be Cesar Chavez Day.

PHOTOS: Google Doodles of 2013

Jesus has Chavez beat in the messiah-beloved-by-many department, but the son of migrant laborers is no slouch. His home is a national historic site, he has his own national monument, and his name graces streets and schools all around the country, including in Los Angeles. Some followers compare him to Gandhi.

Chavez organized the United Farm Workers union, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. He ignited crowds under the slogan Sí, se puede -- a line that would be appropriated by Barack Obama for his “yes we can” slogan in the 2008 presidential election.

His crowning success as an organizer, which included fasts to raise support, came with a boycott of California grapes, which started in 1968 and resulted in a 20% loss in sales by California growers, who often relied on the work of poor and undocumented workers from Mexico.

His legacy has also been softened and criticized by experts and historians who argue that conditions for farmworkers today are not that different than the conditions Chavez protested years ago.

“Acknowledging Chavez’s faults is quite difficult for consumers of his popular image,” Matt Garcia, a scholar of Chavez’s life, wrote in an op-ed in the Times in September. “But many of the movement veterans I have interviewed in recent years acknowledge their former leader’s mistakes, including his failure to take the advice of his advisors to create a structure of governance that made him accountable to the workers he represented.

“As one former member told me, Chavez was no ‘plaster saint’ — colorful and noble on the outside, hollow and devoid of substance on the inside,” Garcia continued. “He dealt with complex problems that sometimes led to destructive emotions, including frustration, fear, anger, conceit and even vengeance. And Chavez, like many other leaders before him, was unable to rise above those feelings or channel them into the creation of a stronger organization.

“For those who seek to learn from the past, his story offers lessons about the very nature of leadership.”

--Here are stories from a 2006 Times investigation into the UFW and Chavez’s legacy.

--Here is The Times 1993 obituary for Chavez.

--Here is a Times photo gallery: Remembering Chavez

Twitter reactions:

Do you believe on Easter that @google puts up NOT SOMETHING for EASTER but Cesar Chavez stupid birthday! WTF!!… — Chris(@Chris_1791) March 31, 2013

He is risen.. Ceaser Chavez. according to @google. — Sean Agnew (@seanagnew) March 31, 2013

If you were to go back and tell Cesar Chavez that someday his head would be the “O” in Google, I bet he would have some follow-up questions — B.J. Novak (@bjnovak) March 31, 2013

Cesar Chavez was about giving people the respect that we are all due: the basic right to freedom, honor, safety, and work. — Margarita ( ¿ ³¿) ¿ (@margafret) March 31, 2013

I thought the Chavez-google thing was a hoax or an early April Fool’s Day prank...are they just going to leave that up there all day? — Dana Perino (@DanaPerino) March 31, 2013

Looks like Google thinks 2.2 billion people are celebrating Caesar Chavez today. — Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) March 31, 2013

Google is celebrating Easter with Cesar Chavez. I’m celebrating Easter with Bing. — Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) March 31, 2013

whom ever at google did the Cesar Chavez Day thing should teach a phd class in trolling christian conservatives — john r stanton (@dcbigjohn) March 31, 2013

Google statement on Chavez doodle: “as you may imagine, it’s difficult for us to choose which events to highlight…"… — Hunter Schwarz (@hunterschwarz) March 31, 2013