By Rachel Tennenbaum
Merely two weeks after May Day, the event reawakens the issues brought up in the May 1 rally. Immigration rights, worker’s rights, solidarity and respect between people; all of these are what Cesar Chavez fought for and what students on campus are continuing to work toward.
In 1962, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. Today the organization is known as the United Farm Workers association (UFW), one of the nation’s largest farm workers unions. Over the years the UFW has fought for, and won, union contracts that championed workers’ rights. In the early days of the union, these included rest periods, clean drinking water and bathroom facilities. Later fights focused on banning discrimination and sexual harassment against workers.
The fights that Chavez and Huerta led changed the lives of thousands of workers, of immigrants, of men and of women and of children. They championed human rights and revolutionized the relationship between big farms and their workers. Chavez is today recognized as a hero, and is often compared to Martin Luther King Jr. for his work. Chavez’s birthday, March 31, is a state holiday in California, Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
On Wednesday, May 14, UC Santa Cruz will recognize Chavez and his work in the fifth annual Cesar Chavez convocation. Guillermo Gómez-Peña is the guest of honor this year. Peña is an artist and activist who was the first Latino to receive the $500,000 MacArthur Genius Grant, a fellowship. Born in Mexico City and raised in the United States, he today directs a San Francisco performance troupe called La Pocha Nostra.
Much of Chavez’s work was conducted up and down the state of California and dealt with the big players of the farming industry. Here at a California public university, one that is close to the major agricultural centers of Watsonville and Salinas, the messages of farm workers cannot help but hit close to home. Additionally, in 2003 Dolores Huerta, Chavez’s counterpart, was appointed a short-term UC regent, intertwining the fight of farm workers and the University of California even more closely. Perhaps the convocation is more than a single event; perhaps it is but another symbol of the tie between the UC, students and the fight for workers’ rights.
_The Cesar Chavez Convocation will be held Wednesday, May 14, 7 p.m., at the Colleges Nine/Ten Multipurpose Room._