Hard daily manual labor, less-than-minimum wages, limited access to education and unfair prejudices were the lifestyle of a mix of minorities in 20th century America. That is, until few select leaders decided that enough was enough and sought equality.
Tuesday evening, the Denver-based theater-company Su Teatro acted out the story of the March for Justice, a 350-mile civil rights march led by Mexican activist Cesar Chavez in 1966.
“Cesar Chavez was a man, much like Martin Luther King Jr., who believed in non-violence and social justice,” said Su Teatro Company Manager Mica Gracia-De Benavidz. “Chavez grew up a migrant and didn’t want his children to live that life too.”
His efforts immortalized Su Teatro’s musical “Papi, Me and Cesar Chavez.” Chavez led the march from Delano, Calif. to the state’s capital Sacramento to demand the governor to increase access to education and pay, reduce prejudice and improve working conditions for migrant workers and farm hands.
Ultimately, the march’s success resulted in the creation of the first union for farm workers, United Farm Workers.
Gracia-De Benavidz said Chavez was an influential activist worthy of recognition.
“The work that Chavez did is still important and continues to resonate with people today,” Gracia-De Benavidz said. “(Chavez) gave people a voice they didn’t know they had; he showed them that they could speak up.”
The musical, written in 2003, was a tribute to the story of Chavez through song and spoken word. It was told from the perspective of a 10-year-old girl, and written by Anthony J. Garcia, a member of Su Teatro.
Gabe Barela, CSU student and co-chairman of the Denver-based Cesar Chavez Community, said watching the story unfold from a little girl’s point-of-view made history resonate at a deeper level.
“The little girl gives the story a humanistic point-of-view and takes the audience back to the root of basic human rights,” Barela said. “This play helps students realize that day-to-day interactions can make an impact in the community. It doesn’t have to be something as big as what Chavez did.”
The march and all of Chavez’s efforts were strictly passive, non-violent acts to promote change. Several of his main tactics included open protests, boycotts, strikes and fasts.
In the play, Chavez’s character called the farm workers seeking civil rights, “The children of the sun, out of the fields, out of slavery.”
Illustrated too was the conflicts workers faced — deciding whether to strike and potentially lose their jobs by angered employers or not strike and endure further injustices.
Throughout the reenactment, the small cast of six actors would pause the play intentionally to recruit audience members to act out scenes, all the while alternating between English and Spanish.
Chavez’s immediate improvements to farmer’s lifestyles were important, but more important, was the Civil Rights movement he initiated, which motivates a drive for equality in race and labor.
Shanneyvie Johnson, a sophomore political science and international studies double major, noted that the harsh working conditions of American-Mexicans is only one of many issues that needs attention.
“(The play) was about freedom and not being oppressed,” Johnson said. “It’s a good idea to get it out there, it’s something that did impact us, it has influenced all of us, and there’s a lot more gong on out there.”
Staff writer Scott Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.