Who Was Cesar Chávez?

Header photo by John W. Schulze.

Growing up in San Jose in northern California, I was surrounded by the Cesar Chávez Library, Cesar Chávez Elementary School, Plaza de Cesar Chávez, and the Cesar E. Chávez Community Action Center.

Everywhere I went, there was either a street or a building named after Chávez. Although I did not know who Chávez was, I always enjoyed “Cesar Chávez Day,” because that meant we had no school on the day after my birthday.

I assumed Cesar Chávez Day was recognized and honored everywhere, but I’ve recently come to learn that it is not a holiday celebrated in other states, or even other cities in California.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 7.23.43 PM

Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Jose, California. Photo by Alondra Castanon.

It was not until I took a Chicano Studies course at UCLA that I learned about his impact in the Chicanx community. As I head home for spring break, I would like to remember Cesar Chávez.

Cesar Estrada Chávez was a Mexican American man born in Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927 (Cesar Chávez day is March 31). He married his high school sweetheart, Helen Fabela Chávez,  and settled down in San Jose, California in 1939. The couple had a total of eight kids together, five daughters and three sons.

In San Jose he became friends with Father Donald McDonnell who influenced him to learn and read about Ghandi and St. Francis. This ultimately influenced Chávez to become a firm believer in nonviolent acts of resistance such as marching, protesting, and hunger strikes.

Chávez worked in the fields with his parents until the year 1952, until he became a part of the Community Service Organization.

Some consider him to be the face of the Chicano Movement because of his committed activism for undocumented farm workers, the civil rights movement, and the progression and equality of the Latino community until the year of 1976. He founded the National Farm Workers Association along with Dolores Huerta in 1962.

Kylee Carranza, a pre-med first year student of Bakersfield, California said she knew who Cesar Chávez was and was aware that he was part of the resistance movement for laborers. However, in Bakersfield, California, Carranza notes, Cesar Chávez day is not a school holiday. Since being at UCLA, Carranza has learned more about the “other important figures in the Latino community, the various civil rights movements and their policies.”

Chávez was an incredibly inspiring and hardworking man, it seems unjust that his history and activism is not implemented into curriculums in every school in the country, not just those of California. However, one can rest assured the field of Chicano Studies is giving Chávez the recognition he so rightfully deserves.

Here are some famous Cesar Chávez quotes to motivate you to do and be better:

“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

“You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.”

“There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence.”

“Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?”

“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.”

“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”

Cesar Chávez passed away on April 23, 1993 in San Luis, Arizona. He was buried in the National Chavez Center in California on April 29, 1993.

Remembering Beloved UCLA Professor

While at UCLA, I took Professor Mark Sawyer’s course, “Black Experience in Latin America and Caribbean.” I still have the books we read in this class and I still have the slides he made for his lectures. This is one of the most valuable courses I ever took at UCLA and one of the most memorable. His class was interactive and he would incorporate music and popular culture into his curriculum, making the material a lot more relevant and easier to understand.

He also led the abroad program to Puerto Rico with Professor Cesar Ayala and I remember trying to convince people to sign up with me because the program kept getting cancelled due to low student enrollment.

I hope his contributions continue to receive the acknowledgement they deserve and that his legacy remains strong. May he rest in peace.


Transitioning from a Big Household to College

I went from living in a big, noisy Mexican household of eight people, to living in a tiny, quiet room with two other people. I felt out of place, like a fish out of water, for a few weeks after my transition.

My hometown is San Jose, a city within the Bay Area. My home is five hours away on a good day, but sometimes it takes six or seven hours to get there with traffic. Some would say I stayed close to home, and though it is true I can go home fairly easily, it still feels like I’m an incredibly long way from home.

The hardest thing for me was waking up the first couple of days and not hearing the familiar voices. Not hearing my two nieces yelling at the top of their lungs, my brothers happily playing on the PlayStation, my mom and dad making breakfast, our two dogs barking and running around.

I woke up and heard voices that were so new to me it’s as if I almost drowned them out.

I believe family dynamics plays a big role in how difficult or easy a college freshman’s transition is.

What seems like a big move to me, may not seem like a far distance to others. Not every family is the same and while my family is a tight knit, huge family, other students may come from a household of only two or three.

Thankfully, for me, being apart from my family gets easier as the months go by. The first couple of months were the hardest because I did not see my parents for most of fall quarter, but now that I’m busier and more involved on campus, time seems to be flying by quicker and before I know it, it seems as if I am packing up for a weekend back home.

Julianna Swilley, a first year pre psychology major, says she adjusted to college life fairly well, making her transition easier than she thought.

“Not having my mom around was hard because back at home it was just me and her, and being here alone was hard for me,” Swilley states. Swilley believes her family was close, having breakfast together on Sundays and weekly dinner gatherings with her aunts and grandparents, but her transition was easy, something she believes to be “contradicting.”

On the other hand, Paige Mesias, a first year business economics major, said her experience as a college freshman has gotten a bit more challenging. Mesias comes from a large family of seven. Although she believes her first quarter was an easy transition, she now finds herself missing her family more than last quarter. The hardest part for Mesias is not being able to talk to her parents daily. Mesias believes that family dynamics play a role in how difficult or easy a college student’s transition is because an independent person will miss their family a little less than someone who had a close relationship with them.

Whether we come from a small family of two or a big, extended family, it seems that the transition to college affects every freshman differently.

As much as we wanted to tell ourselves that we would be fine without our parents, let’s face it, we miss them just as much as they miss us.