Carmel Solano, a Fort Collins resident, spent 10 years of his life traveling from New Mexico to Colorado and Texas to Michigan tapping sugar beats and picking cherries, cucumbers, tomatoes and cotton.
Life as a migrant farm worker, Solano said, “was all work and no fun.”
Making $10 to $12 in a 12-hour workday, Solano, his four brothers and sisters and parents sought food and transportation – the two things they needed for survival – with little help from the government.
“The welfare office gave us $25 to feed a family of seven for a month,” Solano said chuckling.
Conditions for the $25 assistance included establishing residency in the state, but that was hard to do as a migrant farm worker who moved with the crops.
Solano and his family worked in harsh conditions with little pay – a catalyst for Cesar Chavez, who worked to improve conditions for people like Solano.
CSU will remember civil rights leader Cesar Chavez with a day of events Friday, starting at noon in the Lory Student Center Sunken Lounge, including a presentation by Solano.
Themed “A Tribute: Social Justice – Our Responsibility,” the events are to remind us of Cesar Chavez’s legacy and to continue working for his vision, Rich Salas, assistant director of El Centro Student Services, wrote in an e-mail interview.
“All of the events and programs are aimed at educating and raising awareness of the life, times and work of Cesar Chavez,” Salas wrote.
Cesar Chavez was a civil rights leader who worked mostly for Chicano rights, but quickly became a human civil rights leader. He founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1965, now called the United Farm Workers, to fight for migrant farm workers’ rights.
Preaching nonviolent protest, like his 1965 grape-pickers strike in California, Chavez used peaceful means to gain higher wages and better conditions for workers.
Participants will mimic Chavez’s peaceful means when they march from the Lory Student Center to the steps of the Administration Building beginning at 1 p.m., marking the 40th anniversary of Chavez’s march from Delano to Sacramento where he worked for the rights of grape-pickers.
“Through this march, CSU students, faculty, staff and community members are making a powerful statement that Chicano/Latino history and leaders like Cesar Chavez are an integral part of American history too,” Salas wrote. “We want people to know that CSU values the celebration of all cultures.”
Graduate student Jesse Ramirez, along with UNC professor (and former CSU professor) Manuel Trevino, will present a rendition of Chavez’s life and work.
“A Poetic Rendition of the Life and Times of Cesar Chavez” will use music, images and poetry to highlight several aspects of Chavez’s life from his birth to his time in the military to his death in 1993.
“We want to add to various sense to capture who Cesar Chavez was and show how we can be a part of his life,” said Ramirez, a graduate student in education, leadership and human resources.
Fighting for rights of all oppressed peoples – not just Chicanos – was one of Chavez’s primary messages.
“The labor movement became more than that,” Ramirez said. “He was a civil rights hero. It’s not just about race issues; it’s a human rights struggle.”
But the fight is not over.
“Cesar Chavez’s movement is still very much alive,” Ramirez said. “These events give us the opportunity to teach others about his work because it’s not in the text books. We have to continue working towards his goals.”
Currently, the United States Legislature is sorting out immigration laws, and the day serves as a reminder of a peaceful approach to conflict, Salas wrote.
“This celebration can hopefully educate people about the importance of being kind and addressing hot topics like immigration and other difficult issues through nonviolent means and healthy open dialogue,” Salas wrote.
“By no implications am I saying that the celebration is a forum to take sides on these issues, but the important question is ‘how can we learn from these great leaders in their approach and strategies in coming up with comprehensive, inclusive and humane solutions and, in this case, reform a system that is not working?'” Salas said.
The goal is to continue working, continue organizing and continue on together.
“As Cesar Chavez demonstrated, we must organize, we must work together, we must fight oppression,” Salas wrote. “The struggle is not about race as many people limit themselves to see on the surface. The struggle is about human rights and dignity we all deserve.”
Cesar Chavez Events
* Noon: Celebration kickoff in Sunken Lounge, films and “The life of a migrant farm worker,” by Carmel Solano
* 1 p.m.: March from LSC to Administration Building
* 5 p.m. in the North Ballroom: Tribute to Cesar Chavez; addresses by CSU President Larry Penley and Mayor Doug Hutchinson. Music by Grupo Aztlan, displays of Chavez’s life, children’s activities and free “food of the migrants.”
* 6 p.m., Cherokee Park Room: “A Poetic Rendition of the Life and Times of Cesar Chavez”
* 7:15 p.m., LSC Theatre: Film “The Fight in the Fields”
Cesar Chavez Quote:
“The preservation of one’s culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”