ALAS Remembers Cesar Chavez

Students got a history lesson from the Association of Latin American Students yesterday when they celebrated the life of agricultural leader and human rights activist Cesar Chavez.

"We promote Latino culture, Latino awareness and any political empowerment." said ALAS President Tracey Beltran of their club's mission statement as she introduced and M.C.ed the event that happened exactly on Chavez's birthday, March 31.

Sebastian Hernandez and Hector Banuelos followed with speeches about Chavez'z life, Hernandez said "His life was a struggle. He had a rough childhood, born poor and experienced racism, even when he served his country in the navy. He only completed eight grade but not by choice since he had to work to help his family." Hernandez also mentioned his work as an activist creating many community groups that helped people get their citizenship and unionizing them, as well as creating the Farm Workers Association in Fresno, California.

Banuelos said "He's the Latino Martin Luther King Jr, Mandela and Ghandi," referring to Chavez anti-violence actions that included strikes and picketing. "Chavez taught us how to make something powerful out of nothing, with more conviction than persistence, only if you're willing through personal sacrifices." Banuelos said. He also talked about Chavez's 36 days of fasting to protest pesticides used and how celebrities also joined in the cause, as well as Chavez death in April 38, 1993.

Beltran introduced Jesse Quintanilla from the PRIDE Club and director of the "Teatro De Los Campesinos" mini plays that "were acts done in front of the picket line to represent the different struggles they were going though in their daily life." Quintanilla said.

The play depicted a farm worker named "Jose" (played by former ALAS president Andrea Avila) who was being harassed by his boss (played by Josue Jauregui), representing how farm workers were living in fear of their bosses, how they were exploited, paid below poverty wages and how they were told not to unionize. The play ended when the boss and the farm worker switch clothes, as the boss wants to experience how his workers "live an easy life", and then the boss is mistaken with a farm worker by one of his own employees, Charlie (played by Nancy Cauich.)

The play was the weakest part of the event, due to bad acoustics that made hearing what was being said almost impossible and the constant stop-and-go pace of the play due to the actors having to read every other line. But this didn't stop international student from Fiji Cecilia Olivier to enjoy the day "I think this is really good, in Fiji we had the same problems with out farmers being paid less."

Justin Mendez and Gerson Ramos followed with their speech on the "hard conditions in which farmer worked, under the sun with no shade, no water and no toilet for .95 cents an hour. Some farmers even got charged for the water that they were given, making it .60 an hour." Said Justin.

"When Filipinos decided to go on strike for better wages, they were successful after 10 days, when they went up to $1.25... But then when Mexicans were hired to cross the picket line, telling them that they were fighting to feed their children, Filipino workers convinced the Mexicans to strike with them. Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee then went to talk to Cezar Chavez for help with the strike but he refused at first, saying that 'his organization wasn't ready.' But on September 16 1966, he decided to help them. On March 17 a march started to the capital, with 100,000 supporters when they reached their destination."

Ramos said, "Farmers were being fired for starting unions, so many had to choose to feed their families and not risking getting fired. Chavez achieved new farm laws that changed this."

Max Loder went up next and talked about the legislation and how the UFW still to this day fights to pass legislations that helped farmers like having Spanish language driver tests.

Beltran talked about how "UFW brought safer working conditions with less pesticides, much of what he's done can be still be seen today, better wages. During the 60s there was a Bracero guest worker program that brought many undocumented for cheap labor and that didn't give benefits. A new Bracero program is in the works, but these workers need a path to legalization since they're working here and contributing to the economy. We need better laws"

Then, Raphael Silas from Associated Students, who were sponsoring the event, took the stage to announce: "Elections are coming. You have to put the sacrifice you gotta take the mantle you gotta make it happen. Also we want a garden on campus and are collecting signatures for this to happen... I can go on a 60 day hunger strike to get them, I need it"

Jackie Reyes read a poem before Beltran invited the students to go get food. "the fruit you're eating was picked up by immigrants so think about that when you eat it" she said. "If people want to find out more about ALAS they can go to one of our meeting on Tuesdays from 11:15 to 12:35 at HSS 150 or through our facebook and myspace." Said Beltran.

The day ended with most of the members of the participating clubs, ALAS, LSU and PRIDE dancing to the meringue music playing on the speakers.