Cesar Chavez remembered by students, others

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX – Students from a dozen schools will gather at Cesar E. Chavez Community School today to celebrate the life of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.

Born on March 31, 1927 near Yuma, Chavez, a second-generation American, became perhaps the best known Latino civil rights activist, co-founding the National Farm Workers Association – later the United Farm Workers – and bringing the struggle of farm workers to the national forefront. He favored aggressive but peaceful tactics, utilizing strikes, marches, boycotts, and what he called “spiritual fasting” to gain public attention.

“Si se puede,” which means “yes, we can” or “it can be done,” was Chavez’s motto in life and became the motto of the UFW. The phrase has since been adopted by other labor unions and organizations. It has also become the signature rallying chant of those protesting immigration reform and illegal immigration laws.

While not yet a national holiday – there is a push to establish one under way -- Chavez’s birthday is a state holiday in California and an optional holiday here in Arizona and several other states.

Supporters say it’s important to honor Chavez and his accomplishments, and essential that children learn who he was and what he stood for.

“Cesar Chavez was a leader in our community, particularly with our demographic here,” said Ivette Rodriguez, the principal of Cesar E. Chavez Community School . “He’s somebody that our students can really look up to. His core values really embody the way that we want our students to fight for social justice, for something they believe in.”

Chavez, who died in 1993, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by then President Bill Clinton in 1994. The Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the U.S.

“Through his courage, Cesar Chavez taught us that a single voice could change our country, and that together, we could make America a stronger, more just, and more prosperous nation," said President Barack Obama in 2009.

Because of today’s holiday, city offices and libraries are closed. In addition, there is no trash collection and marking meters are free. Transportation services like city buses and the Light Rail are running on their regular weekday schedules.

As part of Thursday's festivities at Cesar E. Chavez Community School, Chavez's grandson, Alejandro Chavez, will speak. The younger Chavez is working to carry on his grandfather's legacy, and even wears his familiar chant, "si se puede," tattooed over his heart.

Alejandro Chavez said he loves talking to kids about his grandfather.

"It's a great honor to be here every year. ... This [age] is where you need to catch them, where you can inspire them to go and be labor leaders. You can inspire them to be presidents. You can inspire to achieve more. That's what he [Chavez] was about, empowering the youth."