Arizona students celebrate the life and work of César Chávez
César Chávez Day holds huge cultural significance in Arizona, and while many schools give students this day off, several schools are hosting district-wide celebrations in Chávez ’s honor this year.
Born in Yuma, César Chávez was a Mexican-American migrant worker who became a champion for union farm workers’ rights. During his time as a laborer, Chávez saw atrocious conditions at migrant camps, racist and corrupt labor contractors and low wages. He founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 and worked with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to strike against grape growers in California. Chávez led boycotts, marches and hunger strikes which worked to eventually improve wages and working conditions for agricultural workers in California, Texas, Arizona and Florida. César Chávez’s birthday, March 31, has been celebrated as César Chávez Day in California since 2000. However, it became a federal commemorative holiday in 2014.
Slideshow: Students learn about, honor César Chávez’ work by TaMeia Murphy/AZEdNews
At C.W. Harris School, a K-8 school in the Cartwright School District, first- and seventh-graders teamed up to commemorate Cesar Chavez by watching a video that explained the struggles and achievements made by Chavez.
After the video, the students worked together on a grape-shaped sheet where they had to finish this sentence “I can impact my world by…” Some students wrote that they can help create an impact by helping feed others or simply by picking up trash in their neighborhoods.
After the students were done coloring and filling in their thoughts, they headed to the front office to hang their grapes on a vine ribbon.
“This activity was an excellent way to teach our students about someone who influenced the lives of many but specially, the lives of immigrants. It also reminded them that they also have power to influence our community,” said Dr. Guillermo Heredia, principal of the school that serves students in the heart of Maryvale, a predominantly Hispanic area in Phoenix.
Administrators at Cartwright say it’s important for children to learn about leaders that reflect their community and look just like them, leaders who have made a difference and continue making a difference in the world. Harris hopes to make this event an annual tradition.
Students at Trevor G. Browne High School will take part in a school assembly honoring and celebrating the life of César Chávez on Friday, said David J. Provost, Assistant Principal of Athletics/Opportunities at the school in Phoenix Union High School District.
The Cesar Chavez Leadership Academy will celebrating Cesar Chavez Day on Friday, March 29, preceeding the holiday March 31, with a variety of events and opportunities for the school community, said principal Brigette Smith.
“We are going to begin our morning with an all-school assembly,” Smith said. “Our students will fill a variety of roles in not only planning the event but also executing the celebration. Throughout the assembly we will have student leaders acting as the emcees. Our primary students will begin our assembly singing a celebratory song, we will host guest speakers and we will be dedicating an original piece of artwork created by Martin Moreno.”
Video by TaMeia Murphy/AZEdNews: Cesar Chavez Day Parade
“Following the assembly, our entire school community and sister school guests will participate in a march through our neighborhood to show our love, support, and honor for the work that Cesar Chavez did and the legacy he has left on our world,” Smith said. “The parade will help to show our unity and partnership with one another in each of our educational and personal journeys.”
Teachers include a variety of learning opportunities into their instruction that focus on Cesar Chavez and his legacy, as well as other culturally responsive practices, Smith said.
“We want to help ensure that our students have a deep understanding of why our school is named after Cesar Chavez, and why Cesar Chavez’s work as a labor leader and civil rights activist was so impactful,” Smith said. “We want to be able to provide learning opportunities for not only our students, but also our staff and our community, so that we can continue to show honor and respect for his work through our daily actions.”
ASBA Video by Brooke Razo and edited by Mary Irish: Honoring Cesar Chavez – Nikkie Whaley
Chavez Leadership Academy sixth-grade student Ruby Contreras said what she likes best about Cesar Chavez Day is how the sixth graders will help kindergartners plant a garden.
“Our sixth grade has also made the invitation for Cesar Chavez Day, we are planning the student-led assembly, and Junior High will be watching the Cesar Chavez movie,” Contreras said.
Contreras also said students will incorporate a lot of artwork and art projects in their Cesar Chavez Day celebration this year.
“This celebration is important because it celebrates a man who stood up for his rights, his family, and what he had to do to reach his goals,” Contreras said.
In the future, Contreras said she would like to have each class “think of something we are grateful for from Cesar Chavez and share it with our classrooms. We can use those ideas to help create school projects that we can do around our building.”
After the march, Chavez students will participate in break-out sessions that include creating interactive art projects that will be installed in the school’s hallways, complete campus service projects to demonstrate respect for the physical community, and view the Chavez documentary to gain a deeper understanding of his legacy, Smith said.
The school’s Chavez Day celebration is important for the students and the entire South Phoenix community, because it celebrates knowledge, identity and legacy, Smith said.
“I am so very excited to partner with our community as we celebrate Cesar Chavez this year,” she said. “I believe that through meaningful learning opportunities during our school year and our Cesar Chavez Day celebration, we can provoke thought, effort, and curiosity within our community to empower each stakeholder to impact our world.”
“We truly believe that if we can embody Chavez’ core values and live in honor of his work that we will be able to provide unique learning opportunities for our students in alignment with our school’s mission, “We Lead. We Inspire. We Impact Our World,” Smith said.
ASBA Video by Brooke Razo and edited by Mary Irish: Honoring Cesar Chavez – Adam Lopez Falk
The school also holds an annual Chávez Day Art Contest facilitated by art teacher Lauren Kennedy. Each student creates a piece of art honoring the legacy of Chávez that is displayed at the Chávez Day celebration. Kennedy’s students analyze relevant famous works of art to use as inspiration for their creations.
A highlight of this year’s Chavez Day celebration is that local Latinx artists are collaborating with the youth of Chavez Leadership Academy to paint “Windows into the Future” murals that will shed light on our students dreams for the future, Kennedy said. With the support of Raza Development Fund, artist Martin Moreno is dedicating his weatherproof mosaic portrait of Cesar Chavez to our school at our Chavez Day celebration.
Kennedy said after visiting the César E. Chávez National Monument near Bakersfield, Calif., “I returned to Phoenix with a more profound understanding of how to organize my own community and a United Farm Workers flag, which now hangs in my classroom year-round.”
ASBA Video by Brooke Razo and edited by Mary Irish: Honoring Cesar Chavez – Corina Madruga
She said she sought to increase her students’ empathy for farm workers and their understanding of Chávez ’s fight. Kennedy asked her students, “If you were a farm worker working in these conditions, what would YOU do?”
The question sparked mock-strikes and moved one student leader to begin protesting using the United Farm Workers flag. Students organized in order to mock-strike together, according to Kennedy, and she had to listen to their demands as their boss in order to save her mock-business.
“Through this experience, students quickly internalized how much more powerful an organized, dedicated group is compared to one passionate individual,” Kennedy said.
She considers these types of learning experiences to be the school’s major responsibility, as Chávez ’s namesake, to continue his legacy and enrich the cultural identity of South Phoenix.
“César Chávez Day is one of my favorite days of the year because it unites so many South Phoenix stakeholders to build community through arts and culture,” Kennedy said. “The more often people from different aspects of our community come together in an inclusive space, the easier it is for us all to communicate. The easier it is for us to communicate, the easier it is for us to organize and effect purposeful change, like César Chávez and his community did.”