Reies Lopez Tijerina and José Ángel Gutiérrez at Mercado Mayapán celebrate 40 years of La Raza Unida. (Courtesy of Dennis Bixler- Marquez)

The Raza Unida Party returns to ‘la lucha,’ calling for Hispanic unity in the 2012 elections

EL PASO – La Raza Unida Party gathered here in the same city where its first convention took place 40 years ago calling for Hispanics to unify with renewed vigor at a time when their vote is of critical importance in the 2012 presidential elections. “The question is how we control our destiny,” said José Ángel Gutiérrez, 68, a founding member of the party, a lawyer and a longtime leading Chicano activist. The roots of the Raza Unida Party, created to organize and empower new generations of Hispanics, date to the late 1960’s when Hispanics students at Crystal City Texas High School were excluded from some of the extracurricular activities. The discrimination led to student protests and walkouts. Gutierrez soon found himself advising them.

With poverty still a way of life, Segundo Barrio remembers Cesar Chavez

EL PASO – On a warm, windy March afternoon, the inhabitants of one of El Paso’s most rustic and historic neighborhoods gathered for a carnival held in honor of Cesar Chavez. Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe held a carnival for the famed social justice leader on the grounds of La Fe Preparatory School on Saturday the 26th of March. Hundreds were in attendance, many of them residents of the Segundo Barrio, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States. “We need to keep the legacy of Cesar Chavez alive,” says John Estrada, who is a member of the board of directors at La Fe. “And this is one of the ways we do it, through Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe.”

The board of directors of La Fe have supported this event for over 10 years, with the event taking place on the elementary school grounds for the past three years.

An education lifted la chicanita from the lettuce fields into academia

EL PASO – Memories flowed with the tears as the anthropology professor recalled the hardscrabble days when as a child she stooped to pick lettuce in the fields of New Mexico from early morning until dusk. “I picked everything I can possibly think of except for watermelon and grapes,” says Dr. Gina Núñez-Mchiri, 38, who teaches at the University of Texas at El Paso. She was only eight when she started working alongside her mom and dad and her four siblings. It was exhausting work, hard on her little body, dirty and sweaty. “Growing up with migrant farm working parents was very difficult, very challenging,” Núñez-Mchiri says.

UTEP loves Cesar Chavez

March 31 declared a ‘no classes’ day
EL PASO, Texas — After several letters of protest, a rally and march to the President’s Office and a Gold Nugget recipient returning his award, Cesar Chavez Day is back as a “no classes” day only for this year. At their monthly meeting Feb. 8, the Faculty Senate voted in favor of reinstating Cesar Chavez Day and Spring Study Day as holidays for students. Last November, the same entity removed both dates from the school’s calendar to meet a requirement by the state legislature that mandated them to choose 12 staff holidays per academic year. The reinstatement of the holiday was announced through an e-mail sent by the President’s Office, which included a statement from UTEP President Diana Natalicio.

César Chávez’ struggle rings again on the UTEP campus: This is just the beginning, says student leader

ELPASO, Texas — A decision to remove César Chavez Day as an observed school holiday taken by the University of Texas at El Paso Faculty Senate touched a nerve at this Hispanic-majority institution. “We were under pressure to make a quick decision,” said Faculty Senate President Dr. Carl S. Lieb, a professor of biology. The vote on November 9 by the faculty Catalog and Calendar Committee, followed by a unanimous vote by the senate, was in response to a Texas State Legislature cost-cutting directive to remove two holidays from the school’s schedule. “The first recommendation to come was to take away the Spring Study Day and Cesar Chavez Day, or (to) take one of the existing staff holidays during the winter break,” Lieb said. Spring Study Day, a faculty holiday on the Friday of Spring Break also was eliminated.

César Estrada Chávez: Honoring a humble hero

We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children.  People who make that choice will know hardship and sacrifice.  But if you give yourself totally to the non-violence struggle for peace and justice, you also find that people give you their hearts, and you will never go hungry and never be alone.  And in giving of yourself, you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love. César Chávez, Founder, United Farm Workers of America (UFW)
March 31, 1927 – April 22, 1993
EL PASO, Texas — Upon my return to Texas as a young man after completing my Naval duty, I began to hear stories about César Chávez.  In spring 1966, Archbishop Robert Lucy of San Antonio appointed me to head the Bishop’s Committee for the Spanish Speaking and to help the melon strikers in Rio Grande City, Starr County, in South Texas. Although I would not meet César personally until 1985, during his work to eliminate dangerous pesticides, his vision for justice and his leadership of the United Farmworkers of America in the 1960s and 1970s strongly influenced my community activism within the Chicano Movement. My personal experience

Starr County rural communities were the most impoverished in the United States. I organized food and clothing drives in San Antonio and Austin for the striking farmworkers there.

The Chicano Movement — alive and evolving

EL PASO, Texas — El Movimiento, also known as the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, was the empowerment of Mexican Americans in the 60s and 70s. Almost a half century later, Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics continue to fight a struggle, but at times it does not have the same clout as it once did. “There were several arenas that took on a voice back in the late 60’s and early 70’s,” said Benjamín Sáenz, department chair for Creative Writing. “There was a literary movement that involved many writers, mostly poets…and then there was a purely political movement.”

Sáenz, a writer and professor at UTEP, said he was very much involved in the fight and highly political during those times. “We move forward all these years—after the civil rights movement and we talk about the Chicano Movement, but there is no movement per se.

Texas Finally Managed to Erase César Chávez

EL PASO, Texas — César Chávez was a Chicano leader who led the fight in a proud movement in the 1960’s for the rights and dignity of migrant farm workers.  He fought so they would receive better treatment and better pay for their hard labor in the fields. By organizing the United Farm Worker and using peaceful protest as a tool for change Chávez gave voice to an entire minority in what can be seen as American free speech at its finest. To the Texas State Board of Education, however, Chávez isn’t worth putting in the high school history books. “Personally I believe that not mentioning him [Chávez] would be taking away the identity of people who really struggled and managed to shape the political landscape.

Mercado Mayapán Celebrates Chicano Power and Pride

EL PASO, Texas — The smell of tacos al pastor greeted visitors of the Mercado Mayapán like the warmth of a Mexican grandmother’s bosom.  Chicanos gathered here surrounded by the beat of indigenous drums and warm colors for Chicano Power: Legacy of the Chicano movement in El Paso on a Saturday afternoon. Throughout the month of February, Museo Mayachén and La Mujer Obrera presented to the El Paso community different exhibits all having to do with the struggles of the Chicanos and Chicanas during the 60’s and 70’s.  Cultural dances, musical performances, and informatory forums were hosted at the Mercado Mayapán every Saturday in an effort to bring people to the recently opened museum dedicated to the Chicano movement in El Paso. The forum on February 13th was organized by Salvador Avila who participated as a member of the Brown Berets during the era of the Chicano movement. “Hoy se hace historia en la comunidad de El Paso,” Ávila said.