Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011-03-26 "César Chávez's grandson inspires Vallejo students from MIT Academy" by Lanz Christian Bañes from "Vallejo Times-Herald" newspaper
For a few brief moments Friday, Vallejo thundered with the iconic words, "Sí, se puede."
"It's not just a catchy phrase. It's a way of life, of living. It's a mindset," said Juan Chávez Villarino.
Villarino's legendary grandfather César Chávez used the saying, roughly translated to, "Yes, it can be done," to organize Central Valley farm workers in strikes and civil disobedience in the struggle for better working conditions.
And it was that phrase that inspired Barack Obama to coin his presidential campaign slogan of "Yes, we can."
Chávez would go on to co-found the National Farm Workers Association, which evolved into the United Farm Workers. March 31, Chávez' birthday, is celebrated in California as César Chávez Day.
Wearing a red UFW shirt, Villarino, 28, spoke to Mare Island Technology Academy at the behest of a Spanish II class members. They called the César E. Chávez Foundation, which sent Villarino.
"It's pretty cool they took that initiative," said Villarino, whose speech emphasized the importance of education.
Villarino is a recent University of California, Santa Cruz graduate. Chávez himself had to drop out of school in eighth grade to help support his family, Villarino said, who told the students they should pursue their educations.
"(Chávez) was a product of his environment. He had to leave school to support his family. If he could, he would have stayed there," Villarino said.
Villarino described his grandfather as a man who sacrificed a chance at a comfortable life to become the voice of those who could not speak for themselves. Like many of his cousins, Villarino was born on the Delano farm that was Chávez's home and headquarters.
It was in Delano, that Filipino-American farm workers led by Larry Itliong initiated a strike and boycott against grape growers in 1965. They were joined by Chávez's organization, largely made up of Mexican-Americans. Villarino said his grandfather emphasized nonviolent civil disobedience -- to the point of going on hunger strikes -- even when threatened with violence.
"It's a way of revolting against the status quo ... not with guns, but with picket signs," Villarino told the students, assembled in the gym of nearby Continentals of Omega Boys and Girls Club.
As legend has it, the Filipino-Americans and Mexican-Americans would begin their meetings with a "unity" or "solidarity" clap to bridge the language barrier. The clap would start slow and in unison before speeding up and ending in cheering.
Villarino led the students in the solidarity clap at the beginning and end of his presentation. The students also answered Villarino's question of "¿Se puede?" ("Is it possible?") with Chávez's famous "Sí, se peude."
A grape boycott lasted five years, leading to a significant victory for farm workers' rights and propelling Chávez to national attention. His work would take him across the globe, Villarino said.
"(But) when he was home, he made time for his family," Villarino said, remembering softball games and his 32 cousins taking long, agonizing turns to open their Christmas presents one at a time.
Villarino said he is proud of his grandfather and the legacy he left behind, admiring him for his wisdom despite only achieving an eighth-grade education.
"Imagine what he could have done heading off to a four-year university," Villarino said.

Juan Ch vez Villarino, the grandson of UFW founder C\ésar Ch vez, speaks to students of Vallejo's MIT Academy about the legacy of his grandfather and the importance of continuing to improve and strive for excellence. (Mike Jory/Times-Herald)

No comments:

Post a Comment