Twelve area middle school and high school students have been named winners in the César Chávez Essay Contest, a competition sponsored jointly by the University of California, San Diego, and the San Diego César E. Chávez Commemoration Committee.
The contest complements a wide range of community celebrations sponsored by UCSD and the committee honoring the life and achievements of Chávez, and recognizing the new state holiday named for him.
Winners will be officially announced to the community at the Third Annual César E. Chávez Commemorative Breakfast to be held Friday, March 30 at 7 a.m. at the San Diego Convention Center. In addition, the winning authors will also be honored at an awards ceremony April 8 at UCSD's Thurgood Marshall Cultural Celebration.
The essay contest, open to San Diego County students in grades 7 through 12, attracted 257 entries, says Elizabeth Anne Crespo, Education Chair of the César Chávez Commemoration Committee.
"We were extremely impressed by the quality of the entries, especially those submitted by middle school students," says Crespo. "We'll continue to make this an annual event for students." Winners were selected by a panel of 12 judges from the commemoration committee and UCSD faculty, staff and student body.
Essays were written on the following theme: How Has César Chávez Influenced My Life, and What Impact Has His Work Had, Or Will Have, On My Future?
"Many of the students expressed an appreciation for the tenacity that Chávez displayed throughout his life, and that seemed to impress upon them that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to," Crespo says.
The 12 contest winners and their awards are:
Grand Prize Winners: Agustin Herrera, 12th grade, San Diego High School, brand new computer, plus $300; Francisco Valdovinos, 12th grade, Valley Center High School, brand new computer, plus $200; Ronnie Valles, 9th grade, Helix High School, brand new computer, plus $150.
Second Prize Winner: Teresa Soto, 10th grade,Valley Center School, $750.
Third Prize Winner: Jackie Gonzalez, 8th grade, Bona Vista Middle School, $500.
Fourth Prize Winner: Hue Le, 8th grade, The Preuss School, $250.
Honorable Mention (certificate of commendation): Jezreel Lopez, 9th grade, Helix High School; Dulce Alvarez, 12th grade, Bonita Vista High School; Phi Luong, 11th grade, Crawford High School; Antonio Delgado Flores, Lincoln Middle School, 8th grade; Nancy Yorba, 8th grade, Meadowbrook Middle School, and Patricia Jimenez, 9th grade, Bonita Vista High School.
As part of the community wide celebration of the César Chávez state holiday, the University of California, San Diego sponsored a countywide essay contest for students in grades 7 through 12. The winner, in this the first ever essay contest, was won by Agustin Herrera, 12th grader, San Diego High School.
It is our pleasure to present the winning essay to our readers.
By Agustin Herrera
I have always been taught in my history classes about men whose skins were different from mine. The only man I ever saw in the history books whose visage resembled my own was César's. He was the man from the fields of Delano who carried a simple red flag on his back, with a black eagle in its center. His eyes gazed at his people, his smile conveyed peace. His skin was brighter than mine, and as I found out later, his story was my reality. César Chávez is now an exemplary figure that has been able to touch my life in many aspects of development, as a man living in the injustices of the communities of America. His deliberation was reflected in his actions, and his actions were caused by his audacity to take that initiative for the mass movement. He was the only individual in the history book that I felt close to, who was able to calm my fervent emotions with his beliefs.
As a young adult, living an urban life, I have noticed that many of my contemporaries have forgotten about those jobs that have an individual working in the sun out in the fields. That job as a farm worker seems to be a blaring image out of a fantasy. Growing up in the city, I live in two realities; one of opportunity and happiness, the other of oppression and melancholy. I face the duality of good and evil. Like my colleagues, I can also make decisions that can jeopardize my future plans. Violence had always seemed to be the only way to solve conflicts within myself. However, as I learned from Chávez' ideas within the whole milieu of the strike, there are going to be alternative ways to deal with the same situations. I read more of the tactics César used to make his huelga successful. The non-violent strategies that had worked for Ghandhi, that singular method of fighting for justice, were able to inspire a mass of workers. This led to a peaceful result that benefited the goals of the UFW. If it was possible during the mass movement of the UFW of the 60's to maintain an atmosphere of non-violence, then I too could deal with my life conflicts by keeping the same principles in mind. (Like men that believed in not using violence as a way of solving issues that affected society: "Chávez", "King", "Ghandhi".)
I was at peace with myself, yet I soon learned that education was what made people listen to Chávez. If education was important, then I had to educate myself about different issues that concerned the Chicano, Asian, and African communities. I knew then that if I were knowledgeable of the different histories that are present in our diverse country, then my role as a future educator would be important to the growing diverse population of our state. I noticed that politics divided many groups and stopped them from uniting during the "War for Civil Rights" (as I like to refer to it.) Chávez was able to keep the strong feeling of unity in his march through the arid valleys of California. Chávez did what had to be done which, as I discovered, took a lot of discipline and patience. Discipline that enabled Chávez to make the right decisions for his pueblo, nuestra gente de los files. Patience, to fast for days to calm uprising tensions within the strike. He had the qualities of an organizer; he was a born leader that has made me appreciate the opportunities that I am able to enjoy.
His story has led me to new hope. His sacrifice has been glorified. His footsteps may never be filled. He was the only man in that blue American history book that had a positive image of my skin, that had conformity with my name, that had a story that was my reality .