Who is Cesar Chavez?

A story regarding the legacy of prominent union leader and labor organizer Cesar Chavez.

I recently attended the eXtension webinar on the topic of storytelling titled: Share Your Story Now, and a quote that really resonated with me was:

“Storytelling can have great benefits for the teller. It can illustrate your point, make your work visible, and connect you with others. But the best way to get those benefits is to focus less on what you want and more on what you have to give. Telling your story is an act of generosity.”

The speaker stated stories can be created using a “Petal Structure”. The Petal Structure consists of stories that include a central idea, difference perspectives, and amplification. “A story using the petal structure tells multiple stories that all connect to a central idea. Each story should come from a different perspective or address a different aspect of the central idea. Together the stories should amplify or illuminate the central idea in a way that none of the stories alone could have.”

Most important, to create good stories the storyteller must have an interest and passion for the central idea.

I was conducting research regarding Cesar Chavez, and I came across a story on Wikipedia that I thought would be a perfect way for me to implement the storytelling process, because of my interest and passion for social justice, diversity, and inclusion. Wikipedia has a wonderful story regarding how Cesar Chavez Academy in Detroit received its name. I wanted to also provide a voice for those missing voices that are my community collaborators in the Metro Detroit area, who do not speak English or speak a minimum amount of English, but wanted a way to educate people regarding Cesar Chavez and his legacy.

 And the story begins…

Cesar Chavez …“Who is He”? This was the question asked by an attendee during a community meeting in 1996 of over 100 residents held in the basement of a vacant and former parochial school in Detroit. The purpose of the community meeting was to announce the intention to establish a school, to determine if there was interest in the community for establishing a school, and to gather suggestions for a school name. Maria Chavez, a lifelong resident of the community in southwest Detroit, stated to the assembled audience that she thought the school should be named Cesar Chavez. Another attendee of the meeting stood up to ask “Who is he?” to which Ms. Chavez replied, “He’s our Martin Luther King” and everyone in the room begin to applaud. No other names were offered to name the school. On a one voice recommendation, the name and destiny of the school was selected.

History.com states Cesar Chavez was Mexican-American, who was a prominent union leader and labor organizer. He founded the Nation Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later merged with the Agriculture Workers Organization Committee to become the United Farm Workers. Despite conflicts with the Teamsters union and legal barriers, Cesar was able to secure pay raises and improved working conditions for farm workers in California, Texas, Arizona, and Florida by nonviolent methods such as boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes.

The Story of Cesar Chavez on the United Farm Workers website provides insight regarding Cesar’s family and school experiences. It is stated:

“Cesar was born in Yuma, Arizona to immigrant parents. Cesar learned about justice, or rather injustice at a young age, when his parents were swindled out of the family home. His family eventually moved to California and settle in a barrio in San Jose called “Sal Si Puedes”-“Get Out If You Can”. Cesar did not like school as a child probably because he spoke only Spanish at home. The teachers were mostly Anglo and only spoke English. Spanish was forbidden in school. Cesar remembers being punished with a ruler to his knuckles for violating the rule. He also remembers some schools were segregated and he felt that in the integrated schools he was like a monkey in a cage. He remembers having to listen to a lot of racist remark. He remembers seeing signs that said whites only. He and his brother Richard attended thirty-seven schools before he eventually graduated from the eighth grade. He felt that education had nothing to do with farm worker/migrant way of life. Cesar’s father was injured in an accident and he did not want his mother to work in the fields, so he could not attend high school and instead became a migrant farm worker. While his childhood education was not the best, later in life, education was his passion. He believed, “The end of all education should surely be service to others,” a belief that he practiced until his untimely death.”

It is very fitting that Cesar Chavez Academy be named in honor of Cesar Chavez. The school’s name “honors the legacy of Cesar Chavez who dedicated his entire life to the cause of social justice and the rights of all people to dignity and respect”. Today, the Cesar Chavez Academy educates students grades K-12 on five Detroit campuses. The Academy offers state-of-the-art technology in every classroom, free transportation, free tutoring, and the west-side campus in southwest Detroit also features a bilingual, multicultural environment and English Language Learning programs. In conclusion, the story on Wikipedia was a good example of storytelling, and how one story can spark the creation of other stories and narratives.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county. Contact your local land use educator for more information.

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