UNM Chicano Studies Director Eduardo Hern†ndez Ch†vez beamed as students and community members passionately demonstrated what labor leader CÇsar Ch†vez meant to them Saturday at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
Hern†ndez Ch†vez helped organize the annual celebration held on Ch†vez’s birthday that recognizes his contributions to the Latino community. Ch†vez was the co-founder of the United Farm Workers’ Union.
“This is just tremendous because of all the people that I can think of, CÇsar Ch†vez did the most for the Mexican-American community and deserves this recognition,” Hern†ndez Ch†vez said. “He changed the conditions for farm workers in this country and, more importantly, gave them hope for the future. He taught so many people that they could make a difference and change an unfair system.”
About 400 people attended the midday march from St. Francis Xavier Church on Pacific and Broadway Boulevards to the National Hispanic Cultural Center on 4th Street and Avenida CÇsar Ch†vez. At the center, the group could attend a car show sponsored by UNM students, visit a variety of booths, listen to speakers, and watch a variety of performances.
The UNM Recuerdo a CÇsar Ch†vez Committee worked with leaders of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, city and county to produce the celebration. The mayor and County Commission each signed proclamations honoring Ch†vez. The committee hopes the show of public support convinces Gov. Gary Johnson to sign legislation on his desk that would make the farm leader’s birthday a state holiday.
Hern†ndez Ch†vez was once a farm worker and said he is amazed by the work Ch†vez accomplished, which inspired him to try to organize events in his honor to teach young people about their culture.
“When you consider that farm workers moved from town to town and CÇsar Ch†vez was actually able to organize and get them to work together, it is amazing,” he said. “He convinced people who were barely scrapping by to give up what little income they had to feed their families to unite and strike. It’s just such a powerful testament to what people can overcome.”
Students of all ages played a major role in Saturday’s celebration, which Hern†ndez Ch†vez said was the most important and inspiring part of the event.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to see the incredible response that teachers and students have had,” he said. “You can just see the excitement and hear it in their voices. That’s what makes this worth it.”
UNM student Eileen Garcia, co-chairwoman of UNM’s chapter of M.E.Ch.A., a Chicano student organization, said the group organized a car show to raise money that would go back to the community. The group worked with local car clubs and showcased the vehicles in the cultural center’s parking lot.
“It has gone really well, which is great because it is for a good cause,” she said. “Part of the money will go to the Santa Barbara Martineztown Community Center, part goes to a scholarship for UNM students and we’re hoping to send some money to the CÇsar Ch†vez Foundation.”
About 45 UNM M.E.Ch.A. representatives worked at the event, which was one indicator of the celebration’s growth.
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“Our organization sort of goes in cycles, but it is great this year because so many younger students are interested in being active,” she said. “This was successful because they all want to find ways to make a difference.”
Garcia has worked on events honoring Ch†vez since she was a high school student in Las Vegas, N.M.
“I just feel so much joy when I see so many people coming together to honor their culture,” she said. “The struggle has changed, but we still carry its banner. This generation is still fighting for the next level of opportunity, which includes the chance to get an education.”