Honorees recall the legacy of César Chavez

Published in the April 18 – May 1, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Photo by Marty Cheek
Cecelia Ponzini takes a photo of her daughter, Dori Prado, Chill-Out Youth Group founder, who was honored as a Community Champion. 

The South Valley’s community came together to honor those who share the spirit of César Chavez. Educators, students, government officials and activists received awards at the annual Community Champions breakfast organized by CARAS Saturday, March 31, which would have been the civil right leader’s 91th birthday.

Based in Gilroy and serving southern Santa Clara County, the nonprofit CARAS stands for Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services. Board member Ernesto Olivares reminded the audience of about 100 in the Old City Hall Restaurant banquet room that César Chavez’s impact as a leader for humanity lives on through the actions of people who stay involved working for social justice.

“His legacy is about education. His legacy is about civil rights. His legacy is about the environment,” he said. “And throughout the country, we now have seen his rightful place throughout so many monuments that have been erected in his honor.”

The 2018 recipients of CARAS Community Champions awards are:

  • Organization leaders: Los Padrinos Car Club and Los Bomberos
  • Educator leaders: Mt. Madonna School Principal Diane Padilla and South Valley Middle School teacher Del Lazaro
  • Government leader: Morgan Hill City Councilmember Rich Constantine
  • Youth leaders: Eduardo Hernandez, Felipe Alcantar and Ana Gomez
  • Community leaders: Compassion Center director Jan Bernstein Chargin and Chill-Out Youth Group founder Dori Prado
  • Family Spirit Award recipients: Adam and Laura Escoto
  • Lifetime Achievement recipient: Elvira Zaragoza Robinson

Aaron Martinez shows off his first-place artwork.
Photo by Marty Cheek

The first-place César Chavez essay award winner was South Valley Middle School eighth-grader Andrea Sarabia. The first-place César Chavez art winner was Mt. Madonna School senior Aaron Martinez.

Receiving their award, Morgan Hill residents Adam and Laura Escoto described how proud they were of their activities for social justice. Adam described a San Jose march he participated in when he was a teenager.

“We were protesting that there were parts of Eastside barrios that didn’t have sidewalks,” he told the audience at the breakfast. “It was a hot day and I was tired and I was 14. And I blurted out: ‘How much longer is this march?’ And there was this little viejito (old man) who said in this gravelly voice: ‘For the rest of your life.’”

The remark received a heavy round of applause.

“That old man became a friend of mine when I was a freshman at San Jose State,” Adam continued. “That old man was Antonio Del Buono. There’s an elementary school in Gilroy named after him.”

Laura described how the baton of social justice is now being taken up by the next generation.

“When I was thinking about this and the inspiration and how we get that energy, and I thought, really it started when I was a young single parent and had a son,” she said. “And I realized that I need to make a better life for this kid. It’s my son Rio who inspired me not just to be a better woman but to make the world a better place. And when he was about 4, he was my partner on the picket line. And then we realized that our jobs as parents is also fulfilled because our children stand with us.”

As the Lifetime Achievement recipient, Hollister-based attorney Elvira Zaragoza Robinson described how Chavez transformed her views of social justice as a young college student at San Jose State University.

“He became my mentor and motivator,” she said. “He taught me to focus on giving and fighting for the rights of those who have no voice… the farmworker. He taught me to fight for our own rights as students. And he instilled in me the ‘sí se puede’ attitude that means, for you young people, you can do it. Sí se puede!”