¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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Community Service Organization

The Community Service Organization (CSO) was a Latino-affiliated non-partisan, nonpolitical, civil rights organization. Membership did not require citizenship or language qualifications as it served to make Mexican Americans aware of civic rights and responsibilities and encouraged political participation. Aimed at integration, it promoted learning English, citizenship, voter registration, and get-out-the-vote programs. The CSO has been particularly notable as the training ground for César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, Fred Ross, and Gilbert Padilla.

The first CSO was established in the Los Angeles area during the fall of 1947 under the leadership of Fred Ross. Initially its principal objective was to support the candidacy of Edward Roybal for a seat on the Los Angeles city council. After Roybal was successfully elected, it turned to the broader community issues of citizenship and civil rights. As a Latino grassroots organization, it was able to draw attention at issues ranging from housing discrimination to police brutality. Led by World War II veterans, it soon spread elsewhere within California and outside, especially in Arizona. In 1952, Chávez joined the CSO, eventually becoming director of the organization by 1958. By 1962, Chávez left the CSO to focus on building up the United Farm Workers (UFW), an agricultural labor union aimed at obtaining collective bargaining rights for farm workers. Many CSO members such as Huerta and Padilla also ended up working with the UFW in advocacy efforts for greater political and economic rights for Latinos.

However, during the latter 1960s, the CSO underwent a decline in membership because of competition from new, more militant Chicano movement organizations and the more confrontational mood of the decade. During the early 1970s it expanded its mutual benefit programs. When the Chicano movement subsided in the latter 1970s, the CSO regained some of its lost membership and began again to enjoy a wider community support.

Meier, Matt and Margo Gutierrez

Further Reading
Brigham, Jack. “CSO; Working for the People.” Caminos 2:3 (May 1981) 32–33; García, F. Chris. La Causa Política. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974; Gonzales, Sylvia A. Hispanic American Voluntary Organizations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985; Ross, Fred. Community Organization in Mexican-American Communities. Los Angeles: American Council on Race Relations, 1947.

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