Cesar Chavez Day reminds students be proud of the Chicano rights activist
Tuesday, March 30 marked the Cesar Chavez celebration at Santa Monica College. Students gathered and explained how Chavez was the first successful civil rights activist for minorities fighting for fair wages, humane living and medical coverage for labor farm workers.
Cesar Chavez, born March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, was a leader in the 1960s Chicano activist movement who fought for minority and labor worker civil rights. By leading numerous strikes and boycotts, he and other workers achieved the first industry-wide labor contract. He was a common man who had a vision for equality, justice, and dignity for the Chicano community.
When Fred Ross, founder of the Community Service Organization (CSO), hired Chavez as a community organizer in 1952, only 1 percent of agriculture workers had healthcare. Chavez established the National Farm Worker's Association in 1962 (which later became the United Farm Workers of America) to ensure that workers would no longer have to work in inhumane conditions and that each would be entitled to a fair, livable wage.
"The next time someone eats fruit, they should know about the workers that fought for their rights and the amount of labor that goes into that little piece of fruit," said Andrea Avila, President of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS).
Avila, who has been an active member of ALAS since 2007, explains that people now no longer remember who Chavez was and have difficulty recalling what Chavez did for Chicano rights. "Our whole purpose is teaching others about what he accomplished for the community" said Avila.
Justin Quintanilla, publicist for the ALAS and an active member since 2007, explained that while it is an honor to celebrate Cesar Chavez and his contributions to the Latino community, just having a festival and a day off from classes is still not enough to pay respect to what he accomplished.
"I've learned a lot of self-empowerment from being Chicano, said Quintanilla. "How you perceive yourself with labels is how you live your life." Because of Chavez, he explained, the label "Chicano" is now seen as something positive, allowing Latinos to have a sense of pride and dignity in their heritage.
Quintanilla and Dora Chaves, historian for ALAS, performed a skit on the quad about life in the mid-1960s. They portrayed two farm workers in the fields conversing about what Chavez had done by protesting for their equal rights and discussed how they felt about working long hours and being paid below minimum wage.
Juan Lopez, Vice President of ALAS, said that Chavez stood up for the right of Chicanos to have a decent life. "The impact Chavez had on the Latino people transcends beyond the amount of dedication anyone has [had] for the community," said Lopez.