The 23rd edition of the César E. Chávez Legacy took a new turn despite a constant drizzle that brought out the umbrellas for about 200 participants.
A big chunk of the marchers were third- and fourth-grade students from Sycamore Valley Academy.
They were mostly white.
Most of them were accompanied by parents. One of those parents was a farmer.
That was a nice surprise for Óscar De León, a retired television cameraman who took part in the march from College of the Sequoias to the Wittman Village Community Center on Saturday (March 25).
“You should should have seen the children singing ‘De Colores’ at COS,” said De León.
The children repeated the song, a favorite of the farmworker leader who died in 1993, during the march’s brief stop at Redwood High School.
The infusion of schoolchildren was the brainchild of Jonna Rasner, a second-year teacher at the academy. She previously taught in Lindsay, where the school was dominated by Latino students, most of them farmworker children.
It was just awareness of the people who help feed us. The topic is close to my heart because I grew up in a neighborhood of all farmworkers.
The environment changed when she began at the academy.
“My students (in Lindsay) knew where their food came from and who picked it,” said Rasner, whose daughter attends the K-8 academy. Academy students, she said, didn’t.
Rasner decided to pitch a project for third- and fourth-grade students where they would immerse themselves on the source of food, farmworkers and the man who helped organize the United Farm Workers in Delano in the 1960s.
About 40 students took part in the march which was held under on-and-off rain showers.
“They were very enthusiastic,” said Rasner. “They learned about farmworkers from the 1800s to Chávez’s life and changes he made.
The lessons, she said, steered away from the politics and focused, instead, on farmworkers’ lives and the issues they still face today.
“It was just awareness of the people who help feed us,” said Rasner. “The topic is close to my heart because I grew up in a neighborhood of all farmworkers.”
The entire school took part in an essay contest. There were cash prizes for the K-8 contest winners.
The older students wrote their essays on current farmworker issues and what Chávez would fight for if he were alive today.
Rasner hopes the academy project becomes part of the Chávez celebration. “We want to do this every year,” she said.
Rachel Bose, a parent of an academy student, was happy with the school-based learning.
“They learned about migrant farmworkers, where their food comes from and the lives of farmworkers,” said Bose.
Students also spent a day at Kaweah Oaks Preserve to clean the trails.
Her third-grade son, she said, was “super excited” in the months leading to the march.
“It helps with kids that what they learn they can apply to real-life experience,” said Bose, who was glad to see a diversity in the march and celebration.
“This has the capability to be bigger,” said Bose.
Roberto Bustos, who organized the historic,340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento for Chávez, was a key organizer of Saturday’s celebration, which included a lunch of menudo (or hot dogs for the children), music and dance.
“On March 22, 1966, we stopped here in Visalia,” Bustos told the march participants. “We slept here overnight. You gave us food. You gave us water. You gave us ánimo (energy).
“Thank you very much Visalia!” he said.
Celebration participants were treated to music by Mariachi Juvenil Nueva Generación, as well as folkloric dancers.