César E. Chávez movement keeps paying dividends in education

Dr. Sudarhan Kapoor places carnations at the base of the bronze statue of César E. Chávez at Fresno State’s Peace Garden.
Dr. Sudarhan Kapoor places carnations at the base of the bronze statue of César E. Chávez at Fresno State’s Peace Garden.

When Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro looked at a gathering of students who attended last Wednesday’s César E. Chávez celebration, he saw the results of the farmworker leader’s campaign to improve the lives of those who toil in the fields.

“The energy and passion and commitment of César Chávez remains today on this university campus,” said Castro, the grandson of Mexican immigrants from Michoacán.

“When I look at you, I think of the incredibly talented students that we have from such diverse backgrounds and the extraordinarily talented faculty and staff, and the community that has joined together to make Fresno State such a strong and powerful institution of change in our Valley. A lot of the remnants of that came from the hard work of César Chávez and so many others.”

Chávez, who died in 1993, implored the children and grandchildren of farmworkers to get an education, said Paul Chávez, his son who gave the keynote speech at the Fresno State celebration.

Roberto Bustos, known as ‘El Capitán,’ spoke about the 25-day, 400-mile farmworker march from Delano to Sacramento 53 years ago. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

“He really believed that because you were poor and uneducated that you didn’t have anything to offer,” said Chávez, president of the César E. Chávez Foundation. “Helping ordinary people do extraordinary things was his motto.

“He believed that farmworkers could take on the biggest and most powerful industry and prevail.”

Chávez mentioned the Barrera family from Porterville as one of many families that took part in a march from Delano to Sacramento more than half a century ago to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers.

“There were abuelitas and children in that march,” said Chávez.

The son of one of those families, Mario Barrera, was appointed to the Los Ángeles County Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“It was the faith my father had in this country,” said Chávez. “He gave hope and confidence to fight for a better society and not to give in to the pessimism that most of us fall into. In the process of doing that, he inspired people from all walks to life to social and political activism.”

Paul Chávez said his father never earned more than $7,000 in a year while speaking at Fresno State’s César E. Chávez celebration. JUAN ESPARZA LOERA

Roberto Bustos, known as El Capitán for his role in organizing the Delano-to-Sacramento march, said Chávez was the inspiration.

“Guys, what do you think about going to Sacramento and see the governor and tell him what is going on with the growers and the police beating us up and throwing us in jail for no reason?” Bustos recalls César posing the question.

“I thought we were driving there at the beginning. ‘Yes, let’s get our families and we’ll drive up there,’” Bustos told César.

“No, I wasn’t talking about caravaning to Sacramento,” César replied.

Está loco ese hombre” (This man is crazy),” thought Bustos, who eventually agreed to a “scenic” march that went through 53 farmworker communities.

JUAN ESPARZA LOERA Vida en el Valle file

University administrator Frank Lamas said he was amazed with Chávez and the farmworker movement.

“They really did so much for all of us here and really opened the door for what’s to come in the future,” said Lamas. “When I think of folks like César Chávez and others, I think about people who really wanted to make a difference, who wanted to make their communities better than when they got there.”

Castro concurred.

“As we rise and become more diverse. I don’t want us to forget about the enormous sacrifices he made and maybe others for equality,” said the university president. “We should reflect on those contributions of so many, and for us to redouble our own efforts to make this university, this Valley, a place where everyone can thrive. We know that when that happens, the whole region will thrive and be so much stronger.”

The ceremony was moved indoors due to weather, but Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor lead a garlanding ceremony in the Peace Garden while Mariachi Fresno State played ‘De Colores.’