On March 28, California State University San Marcos will celebrate the life and legacy of César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union. Among those taking part in the daylong celebration is Natalie Hernandez, freshman liberal studies major at Cal State San Marcos and a granddaughter of César Chávez. The events include exhibits, films, dancers, guest speakers, and a candlelight vigil. California is the first state to honor Chávez with a holiday under a bill signed by Gov. Gray Davis, but Cal State Marcos has been honoring Chávez's legacy for the past four years.
"The state brought me down here," says Hernandez, a Delano High School graduate. "I wanted to be at a school where my grandfather's history is taught. His legacy is what I want people to learn about." Hernandez says she often finds herself at the statue when she seeks some quiet time.
Carmen Nava, assistant professor of history at Cal State San Marcos, agrees. "It's important for our university to inspire students by commemorating the lives of outstanding individuals who acted on their commitments and principals." Nava brings information about Chávez to her students. "We can teach students about so many positive aspects of Chávez's life and work, and his integrity at the heart of it. He was a man who had a very simple set of principals and he sacrificed a great deal for them. That's inspiring for our students and I bring his story into my classes. He worked collabor-atively with women and men in the community, and that's also inspiring to today's students. Times change and new generations of students arrive every year, so we need to continually encourage students to ask these questions: Who was Chávez and why was he important? The presence of this beautiful statue advances our educational project."
Born in 1927, Chávez spent his life organizing and fighting for rights for the predominantly Latino and immigrant people who work in the nation's fields and orchards. He founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) union, which struggled for years to unionize laborers and then to win contracts for them. In 1965, a UFW a strike targeted table-grape growers in California's San Joaquin Valley. The union called for a national boycott to reinforce the strike and organized a 300-mile march to the state Capitol in Sacramento. The five-year boycott ended when growers agreed to a contract with the union. The agreement marked the first big labor victory for migrant workers in the United States. He died in 1993 at the age of 66.
California's new law sets the holiday on March 31. The law requires a "day of service and learning" in public schools, so students can study Chávez's legacy and take part in public service projects. Cal State San Marcos has scheduled a day-long celebration on campus on March 28. The university will also take part in a countywide César Chávez Health and Service Fair on April 7, sponsored and coordinated by Community Housing of North County, and another campus day of service and learning on April 18, featuring presentations by faculty, staff, and students, Aztec Dancers, a film about Chávez's life, and a campus vigil. The university teams up with Community Housing of North County for a weekend day of service on April 28, and on May 8, the university will honor North County volunteers for their commitment in a "Celebration of Service." Teams of university students, known as the Chávez Learning Caravan, will also bring learning activities related to the life and work of Chávez to the community through presentations at schools, youth and community centers.
"This celebration is consistent with our campus mission as a center of learning," says Tim Bills, assistant dean of students. "Our students come from different backgrounds, and many are first generation sons and daughters of farm workers. We've also made it a priority to focus on border affairs, through our Center for Border and Regional Affairs, and farm worker health, through faculty research, and on resources, through the Barahona Center for the Study of Books in Spanish."
Hernandez plans to become a teacher. She believes her grandfather would approve of her desire to make a difference through teaching. "He (Chávez stressed education so much, because he had to quit school in eight grade to work to help his family survive," Hernandez says. Her mother, Eloise Chávez Carrillo, is one of Chávez's eight children.
Chávez longtime slogan, "Si Se Puede," or "Yes, it can be done," can be found below the feet of the Chávez statue on campus. A group of university staff and faculty worked with the administration and members of the community to realize the dream of building a Chávez monument. A team of Leucadia artists, T.J. Dixon and James Nelson, presented the winning design for the statue. "They realized that they didn't want it on a pedestal, so they put his feet on the ground," Nava remembers. "The artists spent a lot of time with Chávez's family and as they talked, they learned that Chávez was a voracious reader who always seem to have a book in his hand." According to Nava, the final rendering of the statue, book in hand, is fitting for an educational institution that has community service as a value. The statue was dedicated in 2997.
Funding for the César Chávez Day activities is provided, in part, by a grant from the CSU Peace Partners in the CSU Office of Community Service learning. Local contributors include the César E. Chávez San Diego Commemoration Committee, Community Housing of North County, and M.E.Ch.A (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) at Cal State San Marcos.
For more information about the César Chávez Day of Learning, call 760-750-4395.
Wednesday, March 28, Schedule of Events:
11a.m.-5 p.m. The Life and Legacy of César Chávez
On-going exhibits, including displays and videos, detailing the life and legacy of César Chávez. (Founders Plaza on campus).
4-6 p.m. "More Than Words Can Say" A Tribute Honoring the Life, Work, and Values of César Chávez (Dome Plaza on campus).
4 p.m.: University Proclamation of the César Chávez Holiday, President Alexander Gonzalez.
4:10 p.m.: Family of César Chávez. Comments and reflections offered by Chávez's family, including his granddaughter Natalie Hernandez, a Cal State San Marcos freshman.
4:30 p.m.: Performance by Ballet Foklórico de Escondido (directed by Ernest and Patricia Navarro).
5:10 p.m.: Performance by Mariachi Del Sol (directed by George and Barbara Doyle).
6-8 p.m. Film and Discussion: "Fight in the Fields: César Chávez and the Farm Worker's Struggle."
This 1997 film by Rick Tejada-Flores and Ray Telles, features conversations with people who knew César Chávez, or played a role in the farm workers' struggle. Tejada-Flores and Telles use archival footage and other recordings for this portrayal of Chávez and his times. (Commons 206).
8-10 p.m. Candlelight Vigil.
This vigil is a spiritual remembrance of Chávez, with songs and personal reflections. Presented in partnership with the César E. Chávez San Diego Commemoration Committee. (Chávez Plaza on campus).