EL PASO — The spring 2011 semester at the University of Texas at El Paso is one that should live on in the hearts and minds of the people who experienced it, for their entire lives. It began with a simple exclamation by the president of the Student Government. César Chávez Day would no longer be celebrated on this campus in order to better facilitate the Campus’ schedule. This led to a series of student protests that culminated with Pete Duarte, CEO of Thomason Hospital and former director of Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, returning his Golden Nugget alumni award to protest the holiday’s loss. As this semester rolled along, I had many opportunities to explore the significance of César Chávez Day.
EL PASO – The after-effects of UTEP’s decision to preserve César Chávez Day as a holiday still continue to be felt both across the campus and frontiers beyond. The decision, which was officially passed on February 8th, ensures that the holiday, held in honor of the Mexican-American champion of fair labor, will be celebrated by the students this year, despite the fact the campus will remain open to faculty and staff. The decision comes as a result of a massive organizational effort by the UTEP student body, and is considered a decisive victory by its supporters. Yet very few people outside the campus might be aware of the enormous impact this decision makes in this state’s political arena. The reason César Chávez Day was originally threatened with cancellation was due to a proposed decision by the state of Texas to re-define and eliminate the basic elements of the holiday.
EL PASO — César Chávez was buried — to his wishes — in a plain pine coffin built by his brother, Richard. This was a simple, even selfless request from one of the most influential and celebrated figures in American history. It spoke to Chávez’s humility in his struggle for workers’ rights: to be remembered as a fellow soldier and not as a decorated leader or a messiah. The death of the figurehead meant a new life for the cause, La Causa became Nuestra Causa. The man would have celebrated 84 years of life this year.
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.
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.
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.
EL PASO, Texas — Waving signs that read “La Lucha Continúa” and “Thank a Farm Worker Today,” hundreds of people marched in honor of the late civil rights activist César Chávez and in protest of the recent Arizona immigration law. “Farm workers rights should be respected, because they are the ones bringing food to the tables,” said 60-year-old Silvestre Galván, who fought alongside Chávez, the founder of the United Farm Workers, during the 1973 grape strikes in Delano, California. Carlos Marentes, director of the Border Farm Workers Center said the annual income of a field worker is about $6,000, far below the federal poverty guidelines of an annual income of $10,000 per person. Marentes pointed out the hazardous working conditions such as exposure to pesticides that harm the health of agriculture workers. “In the crops of chile, particularly in the Luna County, New Mexico, where many of these laborers go to work, more and more toxic chemicals are being used and as a result they have more diseases, especially in the skin of workers,” Marentes said.