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SF State Students Reflect on Legacy of Cesar Chavez

Posted: Mar 31, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- Fifty years after Cesar Chavez fought for the rights of California farm workers, his legacy remains an inspiration for San Francisco State University students who are engaged in their own activism.

“America is a place where everyone should be welcome,” explained Aaron Stewart, who is majoring in broadcast and electronic communication arts at San Francisco State University. “When America was founded, there were so many ethnicities we couldn’t overlook the fact there were so many different people here. Mexican Americans need to be welcomed in America just like everyone else.”

Schools, communities, parks, streets, libraries and universities in several states are named after Chavez; this university's student center is named after him. Yet only 11 states -- California, Nevada, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Illinois, Michigan, Utah, Texas, Colorado and Arizona -- celebrate Cesar Chavez Day.

California Congressman Joe Baca, D-Rialto, has introduced a resolution several times to make Cesar Chavez Day a national public holiday, arguing that Chavez’s influence “extends far beyond agriculture and provides inspiration for those working to better human rights.”

Although the efforts have been unsuccessful, United Farm Workers and the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation continue to circulate petitions to make March 31, Chavez’s birthday and the day the UFW was founded, a national holiday.

“If you sign a petition, you’re taking an actual stand to bring awareness to the issue,” said psychology major and student activist Sofia Elias. “[Chavez] should be brought to attention because he made a systematic change for workers who were being exploited and that’s really hard to tackle.”

The issues Chavez fought for 50 years ago are still relevant today, she said. Undocumented workers today aren’t allowed to become citizens yet employers are still hiring, exploiting and overworking them without giving them the same rights as everyone else, Elias said.

But not all students think March 31 should be a national holiday. For some, the legacy of Chavez doesn’t feel relevant to their lives.

“I’m glad for what he did and everything but it’s not personally affecting me now,” said business major Mike Heser. “I don’t see why we have to recognize a union as a federal holiday; it’s just another day my taxes aren’t being used.”

Others are hesitant to compare Chavez to other national figures in the civil rights movement.

“I don’t necessarily think [Cesar Chavez] should be made a holiday nor should he be compared to Martin Luther King Jr.,” said photography major Dariel Medina. “They did different things and the standards for our federal holidays are high [which] I don’t think [Chavez] really qualifies for.”

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