As a little Puerto Rican girl raised in Minnesota's first Latino community (prodominantly Mexican) on St. Paul's Westside, I can recall the first moment I ever cherished and shouted the famous Cesar Chavez quote "Si Se Puede!" I was in my PM-Kindergarden classroom at St. Matthew's School on 497 Humboldt Avenue in 1992. I was drawing my weekly journal assignment, in which that week the bold letters on the chalkboard asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
I was on a mission to share and showcase my answer to my teacher Mrs Dereburger. I remember I was seated by my childhood amigos Carlos Luis Mariani and DeMetrius Regino as we ate our fruit snacks and shared crayons out of the same box. Mrs. Dereburger passed by us to see our work. I held my colorful illustration with pride and said, "Look Mrs. Dereburger, I want to be a leader for my community, you know like the president, but more like my mom and Cesar Chavez!"
My teacher looked at me and smiled, yet taken away by my statement, she starred into my eyes and those of the 2 other brown elementary kids next to me who knew we were a part of a movement where we could dream and excell.
Growing up in the Twin Cities behind numerous podiums, strikes, political rallies, and gatherings at the Neighborhood House and Our Lady of Guadalupe's church hall; I remember the stories shared in our barrio by community leaders, educators and activist contributing time towards spreading knowledge about where our people came from, how our cultures connected, and why it is important to invite and accept diversity. I can still hear the voices of Gilbert de la O, Francisco y Ramona Rosales, Larry Lucio, Don Luna, Celia Highland, State Rep. Carlos Mariani and most of all my mother Elsa Vega-Perez during my early childhood memories ensuring me since a child that the "Si, se puede" not only stood for "Yes, we can," but also reflected the words "Never give up!"
Above: Gabe Rios, Hector Garcia, Willie Dominguez and Latino Veterans Celebrating Latino Legistlative Day at the Minnesota State Capitol on Cesar Chavez Day, March 31, 2014.
Those words "Si, se puede" registered on the frontlines of all those who fought to be valued, respected, and heard. It also taught us that our oral traditions shall no longer be sheltered in a generation learning the truth of war, the advantages of peace, and the importance of standing up for our rights. I am certain that every community leader and activist who mentored and educated me about they system and our place as citizens will agree and remind me of how far along we have risen together, but yet how much work we still have to do.
Above: Students from Academia Cesar Chavez with Executive Director Ramona Rosales on the far right.
Below: Yolotl, Son of Felipe Espinoza Day and Tania Galaviz De Espinoza expresses his excitement to see the movie Cesar Chavez.
Last Friday in downtown Los Angeles, I attended the premier for Cesar Chavez the movie along with rising Latino star Johnny Ortiz. We both felt appreciated that theatres nationwide were jammed packed and sold-out. Not only did it ensure more opportunities for Latino films in the industry, but it was also amazing to see Latino Hollywood represented by strong actors such as Michael Pena, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, Vicente Fernandez and so many others who continue to pave a way.
Actor Danny Trejo, (Machete star and someone I had the honor of working with) shared with me of the days when he was incarcerated during the famous UFW strike in rural areas such as Delano and Fresno. He and other prisoners at the time were forced to work the grapevine fields. Trejo stated that a large group of women stood on the side of the prison buses, and begged the prisoners not to pick, to strike with them, and in return the women would show the incarcerated men their breast for a quick peep show in honor of the movement.
Above: Latino Actor Danny Trejo
"Shoot, we were down for the movement regardless," stated Danny. "And Cesar Chavez's leadership encouraged me to study law as soon as I was out of prison. It was deep! We wouldn't be able to or be here doing what we do if it wasn't for strong people in the movement." -Danny Trejo
I continued to pay homage to not only Cesar Chavez the man, but also towards the movement he, along with many men, women, and children of Mexican and Filipino backgrounds represented. I drove up north and spent Sunday-Monday visiting those fields in Delano with acres of land full of grapevines and other produce. I walked over the footprints of Cesar and gave thanks to the spirits of the strong women, men and children who encourage me everyday to speak for our derechos.
We've came along way mi gente and as a Latina from the great state of Minnesota, I feel proud that this generation's children can see stories of our people's movements on the big screen nationwide and in schools. However, there was so much more to the UFW movement than the movie dipicted. However, let us cherish what was and continue to support creating more movies about the historical stories of our gente's accomplishments and struggles.
Let this be a reminder of the times we were told our people would never amount to anything, because of our last names, the language that we speak, the color of our skin and our financial struggles in this society. For all of these issues amongst many more are still relevant in the present as citizens, men, women, youth, elders, and veterans struggle with our countries divided viewpoints, man-made diseases and lack of healthcare.
Please read quotes of members who celebrate Cesar Chavez week and work everyday on continuing the legacy and pride of Cesar Chavez right in the Twin Cities. Let us build and continue to grow together in peaceful tactics through the arts, celebrating our elders and youth outreach by speaking up and listening to one another.
Si Se Puede! - Maria Isa
Cesar Chavez, the movie, showed that farm workers could bring about transformational change in their lives and the lives of their families through non-violent means and by having the courage to fight for civil rights. It will serve to educate new generations of people about what Cesar achieved, and what is yet to be accomplished in the struggle for Latino's rights in our country. Yet the greatest legacy Cesar left behind is seen in the continuing work of those pushing ahead the Latino movement for empowerment, drives licences, and legal residency in the US today.
CEO, Santamara Broadcaasting Inc/ La Raza 1400 am/1470 am
CEO, Midwest Latino Entertainment and Talent, Inc/ El Nuevo Rodeo Nightclub & Restaurant & 27th Event Center. Minneapolis. MN
(Photography by Marina Castillo).
Over the weekend I had an opportunity to take my family to see the new Cesar Chavez movie. It meant the world to me to be able to take my kids to a movie and have a teachable moment with them. To explain where our people come from and the struggles that we've had to go through. For the kids, it's a movie that shows them a leader that looks like them!-
-Felipe Espinoza Day
Cultural Arts Director, Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc
It is important to rekindle the memory of Cesar Chavez primarily because Latino youth in the United States need role models to emulate. Latino education gaps must be bridged. Our students must carry on the “can do attitude” that has led this nation to achieve international distinction for so many years. Cesar Chavez inspired Latino and other farm workers to effect dramatic economic changes in the second half of the 20th century with his message “Si se puede!” He can inspire our students to make a difference in the 21st century with the same words; they are his legacy and are now a part of our Latino culture.
Executive Director of Chicano Latino Affairs Council
I felt that the film Cesar Chavez provided a narrow view of the farmworkers movement and the United Farm Workers as an organization. While America Ferrera attempted to claim agency as a strong Chicana, her limited role left her with few opportunities to illustrate the importance women played in the Movement. The lack of complexity around Chavez's negative feelings towards undocumented workers, as well as the lack of Filipino representation, left me overall disappointed. Yes, it's a victory to have a hollywood film represent Chican@ stories and have Latin@ actors on screen. But we deserve to see more than numbers. We deserve to hear a history that encompasses the numerous people involved not just one iconic hero. ¡Viva la huegla!
-Jessica Lopez Lyman
Performance Poet, Chicana and Chicano Studies Teaching Assistant, and PhD Candidate. UCSB.
A film about the UFW, the farmworkers' movement, even about Cesar Chavez himself, has the potential to be powerful, truthful, complex, and leave a legacy. This, unfortunately, is not that film, despite the fact that it focused on an important chapter in Latin@ (&, to an extent, Filipino) history.
-Emmanuel Ortiz Activist, Spoken Word Poet/ Member of Minnesota's Latino Spoken-word group Palabristas
Listen here to Maria Isa's Derechos
Dolores Huerta signs up members at the National Farmworkers Association founding convention, Fresno, California, 1962 (Photography by Joe Gunterman).