VIDA EN EL VALLE (Fresno, California)

March 29, 2017


Memories of César E. Chávez: Strict vegan, personal conversation on UC Berkeley campus, $10 weekly salaries for volunteers


FRESNO  On the week that farmworker leader César E. Chávez would have celebrated his 90th birthday, the Aztec and Mexican folkloric dancers were only part of the highlight at Fresno State’s Peace Garden on Wednesday.

Those who attended the 21st annual César E. Chávez Garlanding Ceremony and Celebration Wednesday got an opportunity to learn some interesting facts about the United Farm Workers founder.

▪ He was “a strict vegan who ate nothing that came from animals,” said his niece, Camila Chávez.

▪ Chávez, who died in 1993, was sitting alone on a bench at UC Berkeley waiting for a ride when student Joseph I. Castro spotted him. They spent an hour talking about the United Farm Workers movement. Castro is now Fresno State’s president.

▪ Union volunteers were paid $10 a week, said his niece, because Chávez wanted the UFW workers to better understand the plight of the farmworkers they were trying to help.

The niece and the university president – along with UFW San Joaquín Valley director Antonio Cortes and retired professor Sudarshan Kapoor – offered their perspectives of the farm labor leader whose birthday, March 30, is a state holiday.

 “We spent an hour talking about what he was trying to accomplish,” said Castro about his conversation with Chávez on the UC Berkeley campus.

Castro – who was joined by his wife, Mary, for the garlanding of the bronze statue in the university’s Peace Garden – hoped that Chávez would be pleased with the fact that half of Fresno State’s enrollment is Latino, that 70 percent of its students are first-generation students, and that the university leads the nation in “graduating our Latino students.”

Castro, who comes from a family of farmworkers, said he draws daily inspiration from seeing the bronze statue from his office.

Camila Chávez focused on the significance of the ceremony, which drew several hundred students and community supporters.

“It’s telling that on many universities we honor a man who had only an eighth-grade education,” said Camila Chávez. “But, he was educated.”

Camila Chávez, the daughter of Dolores Huerta and Chávez’s brother Richard Chávez, grew up at the union’s La Paz headquarters in the mountains east of Bakersfield.

“He took a vow of poverty. César and Dolores believed we should live like the farmworkers,” said Camila Chávez. “We lived in mobile homes.”

Camila Chávez said her uncle, who worked with Filipino farm labor leaders in Delano to organize the farmworkers in the 1960s, practiced non-violence and relied on boycotts, picket lines and marches to fight for farmworker rights.

She helped launch the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2004. The organization has worked in Kern and Tulare counties to fight for social issues in mostly rural and heavily Latino communities.

Camila Chávez said today’s generation needs to continue her uncle’s fight by using their vote to make a difference.

“My mother told me that the most important day in my life is not my birthday, not my wedding day; it is election day,” said Camila Chávez.

Cortes focused on the ongoing UFW movement. While Chávez fought for clean drinking water and bathrooms in the fields, today’s union is fighting for better wages, protection from the heat and union contracts, said Cortes.

“We must continue the César Chávez legacy,” he said. “It is not possible in the 21st century to forget those farmworkers who harvest the food for our families.”

Cortes said today’s farmworkers are also in need of immigration reform.

“Now is the time to stop the raids, deportations and separations of families,” said Cortes.

Danza Azteka Yoztalteptl, Los Danzantes de Aztlán and Mariachi Fresno State performed during the ceremony.

Castro and his wife, Mary, joined Camila Chávez and Cortes in the garlanding ceremony while the mariachi played ‘De Colores’ several times.

Students and others had the opportunity to carry carnations, red and white, that were placed along the base of the farmworker leader’s statue.