Calling for respect
Sobering up César Chávez Day is an ongoing process
César Chávez Day in Chico has for years been an occasion noted more for a spirit of bacchanalian excess than one of community service, but there are efforts afoot to change that.
On Monday morning (April 1) about a dozen volunteers congregated at the Compost Display Area on the Chico State campus, located near the tennis courts just off the railroad tracks. They pulled weeds, turned heavy piles of compost, spread a thick mulch of partly decomposed valley oak leaves, and prepared the soil for a diverse host of native plants.
“There are a lot of students on campus looking for community involvement,” Jeremy Jensen, a volunteer with the group Cats in the Community, said as he wiped mulch from his hands. “And although we have programs like CAVE, not everybody has the time and commitment to put in so many hours a semester. So this is one of the opportunities [students] have to give a day.”
Jensen was among a growing number of Chico State students who want the holiday honoring the late human-rights activist and labor leader, who founded the United Farm Workers, to be about more than revelry, but an opportunity to commit to something deeper, stronger and more abiding.
Krista Farnady, the Associated Students commissioner of community affairs, said more than 200 students and community members participated in the Cats in the Community program this year. Red-shirted volunteers dispersed across 11 locations including the Jesus Center, the Boys and Girls Club and Trinity United Methodist Church. They picked up trash in Bidwell Park and washed trucks at the Chico Fire Department.
“It’s kind of a high-risk, high-profile weekend,” Farnady said at her makeshift headquarters alongside the pool in the Wildcat Recreation Center. “That’s why we do it on this weekend; to provide an alternate event for people who don’t want [to engage in destructive behaviors].”
But the hangovers and red plastic cups associated with the holiday haven’t disappeared entirely.
In terms of the excesses seen in the student community, according to a Chico Police Department press release, “activity levels and arrests for the César Chávez Day weekend were down significantly from previous years.”
However, according to the data in CPD’s weekend recap, the numbers of arrests remained fairly static compared to last year.
In 2012, CPD reported 42 arrests associated with the holiday between Friday evening and Sunday morning. This year, between late-afternoon Friday (March 30) and early morning Monday (April 1), 61 people were arrested. Of those, 12 were Chico State students, 10 attend Butte College, and five were listed as “other students.” The remaining arrestees were described as local (21), out-of-towner (3) and transient (10).
On Sunday (March 31), César Chávez Day proper, students turned out to engage the community in a different way. Around 25 students representing the Chico State chapter of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán), a national student group promoting Chicano unity and empowerment, gathered at the Student Services Center and marched through the Fifth and Ivy student neighborhood, eventually converging at the City Plaza, where there were speakers and festivities.
The route was not arbitrary, said Chico State student Juan Guzman, president of the local MEChA group. Fifth and Ivy, he noted, “is one of the more problematic areas [in the] college community that tends to stereotype Mexican culture. So that’s where we need to bring more of the awareness.”
Guzman said that, though overall the march ran smoother this year than it did last year, participants still encountered a handful of racially motivated remarks.
“We don’t care if people drink or party, or do whatever they want on César Chávez Day,” Guzman said, “but we don’t like the fact that they tend to stereotype Mexican culture.”
In this regard, he added, the university has been doing its part.
“Each year they try to help us out [by] publicizing, making statements, creating posters in the community and on campus to teach students to be respectful of César Chávez.”
In the end, he said, “It should be a day of community service.”