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UTEP prepares for César Chavez Day


¡Si Se Puede! was a defining and defying cry of the United Farm Workers. The cry, potent with its emblematic power, is still used and heard today.

The slogan was adopted during President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and was translated to “Yes We Can!” It was used to mobilize millions of voters and was the symbolic slogan of change throughout his presidential campaign.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the chant was first heard through marches amongst defiant fists raised in the air by the United Farm Workers to demand economic and social justice. The key leader of this movement was César Chavez, a Mexican-American farm worker.

Chavez has been described as a tireless campaigner, who rallied throughout the country, leading marches and hunger strikes to push for legislative change that would protect and further the rights of farm workers.

The precedent Chavez left behind is something that is still remembered today.

“Cesar Chavez stood up for a lot. The Chicano movement really embraced him. It (his efforts) embodies what the Chicano movement is about,” said Arturo Chavez, senior Chicano Studies major and president of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán Del Chuco, the UTEP chapter of a national student organization that promotes Chicano education.

César Chavez Day is celebrated as a holiday day in California and as an optional holiday in Colorado and Texas. It is also celebrated across other states including Arizona, Michigan and Tennessee.

Arturo Chavez said he believes the holiday should be an opportunity for introspection on how to continue
the struggle.

“As students, we should inform ourselves to know how we can make this community better,” he said.

While some students such as Chavez use the day for introspection, others such as Tajei Lee Roy Harper, sophomore history major, will celebrate it in a more lighthearted fashion.

“I will probably be going to the movie,” Harper said, referring to “César Chavez,” a debut film with Mexican actor and director Diego Luna that will premiere March 28.

In honor of the holiday, the Chicano Studies department will be hosting a series of events in honor of César Chavez called the “Chicano Studies Celebration.”

According to Dennis Bixler-Marquez, director of the Chicano Studies department, the “César Chavez” movie is estimated to be one of the biggest events of celebration.

“I think the big differences this year are the films that are coming out,” Bixler-Marquez said.

The events at UTEP have been coordinated by Chicano Studies since César Chavez passed away in 1993. In the past, the celebration has included marches that have been successful in gathering together up to 10,000 people.

The events are open to both the UTEP and El Paso community.

Bixler-Marquez believes the celebrations are important to not only to commemorate César Chavez, but also to present an opportunity to learn about the present conditions faced by farm workers.

“It’s important for students to know where food on their table comes from, that it’s harvested by an actual human being,” he said.

In California, César Chavez Day became a legal holiday after Governor Gray Davis signed SB984 into law on August 18, 1999 to be first celebrated on March 31, 2000.

The law requires all public schools to close. In addition, the California State Board of Education requires schools to integrate curriculum about the farm workers movement in the U.S.

In Texas, the holiday has been particularly threatened. In 2011, State Rep. Tyron Lewis, R-Odessa, introduced legislation to remove César Chavez Day as a state holiday.

A year later, there was outrage after UTEP attempted to remove the celebration of the holiday. UTEP President Diana Natalicio later approved the holiday to be celebrated that year the Friday before March 31.

“They always eliminate the people that look like us,” Arturo Chavez said.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected].


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UTEP prepares for César Chavez Day