The Latin American Law Student Association at Pepperdine University School of Law is hosting a week of lunchtime events to honor the life of Cesar Chavez. The events began Monday, Mar. 31, the birthday of the Mexican American labor activist, and will continue until Thursday, Apr. 8.
"Our theme is 'Celebrate-Remember-Act,'" explains Burton Rojas, coordinator of diversity, recruitment, and student services at the School of Law. "We celebrate the life of service that Cesar lived. We remember the sacrifices he made, and the sacrifices many of the members of our families have made for us to be where we are today. We must act so that others have the same opportunities. Our events try to bring these three things to people's minds."
Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona. At age 10, his family became migrant farm workers after losing their farm in the Great Depression. Throughout his youth and into his adulthood, Cesar migrated across the southwest laboring in the fields and vineyards. As a migrant worker he was exposed to the hardships and injustices of farm worker life.
Cesar's life as a community organizer began in 1952 when he joined the Community Service Organization, a prominent Latino civil rights group. He coordinated voter registration drives and conducted campaigns against racial and economic discrimination, primarily in urban areas. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Cesar served as the organization's national director. In 1962 he founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. His union's efforts brought about the passage of the groundbreaking 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act protecting farm workers' right to unionize.
"Cesar lived according to his statement, 'We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and need of others, for their sakes and for our own,'" Rojas says. "True to our mission at Pepperdine, we seek out opportunities to call attention to the needs of others and to reach out to the 'least of these.'"
The week kicked off with a "Sack Lunch Conversation" with Judge Bruce J. Einhorn. The Asylum Clinic director and adjunct professor shared stories and experiences from his storied career, including his time at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations, his work as a civil rights and Anti-Defamation League leader, his 17 years as a federal immigration judge, and his early days in law school and as a new attorney.
Upcoming events include a "Los Angeles Workers Panel" from 12:35 to 1:25 p.m. on Monday, Apr. 6 in Room B of the Law School. The panel will include attorneys and specialists discussing current issues among Latino laborers in Los Angeles.
The following day, on Tuesday, Apr. 7, Jeff Ponting, an attorney from the California Rural Legal Assistance organization, will speak from 12:35 to 1:25 p.m. in Room B of the Law School. Ponting will speak about the working conditions of farm workers and the need to protect their rights, dignity, and safety.
"Cesar Chavez spent a great deal of his life trying to protect these very workers from abuse and neglect," Rojas re-emphasizes.
Finally, on Wednesday, Apr. 8, the week of festivities will conclude with a traditional tamal lunch, available for sale in the Law School atrium from 12 noon to 2 p.m. The tamal (indigenous Latin American food consisting of steam-cooked corn dough with or without a filling) includes rice, beans, and dessert.
Rojas hopes that participants walk away with a renewed appreciation for the work of Cesar Chavez. "More importantly, we hope to remind people that each of us has the ability to reach out to others less fortunate than ourselves," he says.