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Celebrating Chavez at Calvin
March 23, 2007

Calvin College is celebrating the birthday of labor leader and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez with three events, courtesy of the office of multicultural student development.

The events are scheduled to bracket Chavez’s actual birthday, Saturday, March 31, which is recognized as a holiday in eight states, including Michigan, and dozens of counties and cities.

Jacque Rhodes“We hope to bring some name recognition to Cesar Chavez because I don’t think very many people have a clue who he is, let alone what he did,” says Jacque Rhodes, the assistant dean of multicultural student development at Calvin.

“Let’s introduce people to who he is and his work and the importance of his work in the United States,” she says of the man who rallied migrant workers to secure workers rights and founded the United Farm Workers. “He was in the same vein as Martin Luther King, in that he believed in non violence. And he was a Catholic, and that really influenced the way he proceeded through the movement.”

The first event at Calvin will be a cake and punch reception, to be held from 10 to 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 30 in the Library Lobby of Hiemenga Hall. With the refreshments, the multicultural student development office also will pass out a short bio of Chavez.

At 3:30 p.m. on Monday, April 2, in Hiemenga Hall room 320, Calvin English professor Linda Naranjo-Huebl will share the “Music of the Movement.”

Says Rhodes: “She is a Latina, and she has some interesting perspectives based on her family’s history. And she’s a musician, so she’s going to talk about folk music and how the history relates to the folk music. It will be a combination of lecture and live performance.”

Finally at 7 p.m. in the evening of April 2, Calvin will show the documentary “Fight in the Fields” in the Robert L. Bytwerk Video Theatre on campus.

This will be a joint event of the multicultural student development office, the Spanish department, and the office of multicultural affairs.

Rhodes describes the film as a kind of dual biography: “It chronicles the history of the United Farm Workers, and it chronicles Chavez’s life,” she says.

Of that history, which included the grape boycott of 1965 and the historic 1966 Peregrinación, or Pilgrimage, that Chavez led from Delano to the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento, Rhodes says: “Although the movement was at its peak in the ’60s and ’70s, I think a lot of the issues still are relevant now for migrant farm workers.”

As evidence, Rhodes noted the recent book Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, which shares the harrowing stories of the Central American children who travel to the U.S. to find their mothers.

“These children ride on top of trains from Honduras to Texas in search of their mothers in the cold in the rain,” she says. “They’re beaten and raped they’re robbed. They go for days without food.”

Rhodes has chosen Enrique’s Journey as the next book on the reading list for the multicultural book club, Readers for Reconciliation, and Nazario is a scheduled speaker for Calvin’s 2008 January Series.

Though Chavez has somewhat faded from the public consciousness, his legacy has not, Rhodes believes.

“Do you remember boycotting grapes," she says. "I did. And I loved grapes!”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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