Students gathered March 31 on Ragsdale lawn for St. Edward’s University annual “pachanga” in celebration of Cesar Chavez’s birthday and his legacy.
The event, which was sponsored by SEU’s Multicultural Leadership Board honored both Chavez’s political icon status as well as aspects of his colorful culture.
Amid the brightly colored table cloths, paper flowers, paletera carts and other hallmarks of Mexican-American culture, students attending the event sat in groups on the lawn to listen to SEU’s mariachi band play while feasting on pupusas.
After lunch, which was free to the community, students and faculty helped themselves to the desert table, where a sizeable tres leches cake was cut and offered to everyone.
Aside from the free cake, students and faculty took the opportunity to explore and appreciate the life of a man who left an indelible mark on America’s cultural and political map.
Chavez, who would have been 88 on March 31, began as a migrant worker from Arizona and later became an activist who lobbied on behalf of farmworkers for fair pay and better working conditions in the fields.
He formed the National Farm Worker’s Association in 1962 and worked to organize and educate farm workers to protest their inadequate working conditions non-violently, effectively becoming the voice of farmworkers across the country.
“He was able to rally people together. He gave people a voice. He led them,” said sophomore Johana Carrizales, the Hispanic Events Coordinator on campus.
Chavez represented hope for a generation of farmworkers who otherwise would have never received fair wages, nor even dared to dream about better pay.
“[Chavez’s mission] still impacts Hispanics — and even non-hispanics — today,” said junior Maribel Velarde, President of the Spanish Club. “We can relate to him, especially those of us who have grandparents that lived through that era.”
Now, thanks to Chavez, working conditions are not nearly as appalling as they were in the ‘60s.
“The fields themselves were much harsher during Chavez’s time,” said junior Efrain Torres, a migrant who began working the fields in Washington when he was in eighth grade.
“It is still hard work, but [workers] still get so much help from people in the area. There is medical care, free dental care, and more access to education.”
Although Chavez’s efforts forced a huge change in America’s attitude toward farmworkers by helping thousands of farmworkers demand fair wages and better working conditions from their employers, there is still progress to be made in improving the lives of farmworkers and their families across the nation.
“It’s hard to make a living on the income of a migrant worker,” Torres said. “There is still work to be done.”
In the meantime, celebrations within the community like the recent “pachanga” are essential to reminding the community of the progress that has been made so far and of the efforts that continue.