Relatives of labor leader Cesar Chavez encourage students to be kind to all

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Photo by Marty Cheek
San Martin/Gwinn Environmental Science Academy students learn about labor leader Cesar Chavez and the social justice movement he led at a March 29 assembly

The legacy of Cesar Chavez was honored at San Martin/Gwinn Environmental Science Academy March 29 with an afternoon assembly featuring relatives of the labor leader and civil rights activist.

Born March 31, 1927 and died April 23, 1993, Chavez and his friend Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association union in 1962. The name was later changed to the United Farm Workers of America.

At San Martin Gwinn, about 700 students gathered on the playground for an assembly featuring the theme of justice for farmworkers.

The students held flags with an eagle silhouetted on a red background, the symbol of the UFW. On the bed of an old farm truck, a musician sang songs from the period. He was followed by speakers who told the elementary school children about Chavez’s legacy and why it’s important to continue to strive for social justice. Among the guests were Cesar Chavez’s daughter, Sylvia Delgado, and his grandson, Anthony Chavez.

“This actually reminds me of some of the pictures I use to see when I was looking at my grandparents photo albums, or looking at old news clippings,” he told the students. “When the farm workers movement started, they didn’t have a lot of attention, or a lot of power, or a lot of money.”

At union rallies on the side of farm fields in the 1960s and 1970s, the striking workers and organizers would stand on truck beds similar to the one at the assembly, he said.

“One of the things they always used to do — whether my grandfather or Dolores Huerta or Larry Itliong or Philip Veracruz — is they would start every rally with a unity clap — or with a farmworkers clap. How many of you know what that is? How many want to learn?”

Anthony started a slow rhythmic clap and the kids joined in. The clap grew faster in pace. “That’s it. Sí, se puede,” Anthony said. The students started chanting “Sí, se puede.” (“Yes, we can.”)

Anthony told the students an important aspect to think about when recalling the farmworkers movement that their work continues today. It’s about making sure people live every day with that spirit of Sí, se puede he said.

The students could learn lessons from the farmworkers, he said.

“Those basic lessons were things like respect and dignity,” he said. “My grandfather used to say, ‘It’s not about the lettuce or the grapes. It’s about the people. It’s about ensuring that we respect the hard working parents and families and children out there doing work to feed us and our families.”

Cesar used to remind people about is that: “The end of all education should surely be service to others,” he said. “We have to remember the farmworkers and their families and the millions of people who helped support the farmworkers by boycotting grapes were using their lives to be of service to others.”

Another lesson Anthony gave the San Martin Gwinn students was the importance of using non-violence in working toward social justice.

“Often times when farmworkers and supporters were trying to make their lives better, they were confronted by bullies and bigots and people were just nasty and racists,” he said. “And they used to say mean things to them, and sometimes they would just attack them and they would kill people who were protesting non-violently. So we have to remember that when we want to be of service to others, we have to do it non-violently.”

Following the speeches, many of the students at the assembly formed a line and marched around the school playground carrying banners and waving UFW flags. They chanted “Sí, se puede!” as they marched around the school playground.