Sobering up the holiday

Chico State students lead effort to celebrate César Chávez respectfully

Chico State MEChA President Juan Guzman is calling on his peers to respect the César Chávez holiday.

Chico State MEChA President Juan Guzman is calling on his peers to respect the César Chávez holiday.

Photo By vic cantu

César Chávez Day in Chico has been co-opted for some time by alcohol-soaked college students donning sombreros, serapes and fake mustaches while bar hopping and walking to house parties. This year Chico State and community residents are working to counter such antics they say dishonors the man who fought for farm workers’ rights.

To combat such behavior, an “Action Rally” was held at Chico State March 26 in advance of the March 31 holiday. Organized by the university’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center, the three-hour event in the Trinity Commons area featured about a dozen organizers and student speakers, Latino music, and educational booths. Students wore custom T-shirts and held signs that said, “César Chávez never wore a mustache or a sombrero” and “César Chávez Day is not Halloween.”

“Chico State is one of the few campuses that disrespects César Chávez Day,” said speaker Juan Guzman, 21, president of Chico State’s Chicano club, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA).

Chávez is honored for his role as a union organizer and advocate for farm workers, and is celebrated in California, Colorado and Texas with a state holiday. Before Chávez co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) union in the early 1960s, laborers worked long, grueling days in the sun without breaks, access to clean drinking water, or hand-washing stations.

Chávez used fasting, nonviolent demonstrations, and UFW strikes to help gain improved conditions and health benefits for the farm workers and their families. He died 20 years ago next month at the age of 66. The following year, in 1994, he was awarded posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton.

During the Chico State event, Associated Students President Jaypinderpal Virdee spoke to the students watching and passing by.

“Stop disrespecting the holiday,” said Virdee, a senior communications major. “Californians don’t get drunk on Presidents’ Day or Martin Luther King Day, so why is it OK on César Chávez Day?”

Virdee said he couldn’t remember when the celebration began getting out of hand, but recalled how the now-closed Normal St. Bar would put up colorful posters and run full-page ads in The Synthesis advertising César Chávez costume contests and drink specials for those wearing a sombrero.

Virdee said students should instead take part in the annual Cats in the Community day of service and celebrate the holiday by volunteering their labor at places such as Bidwell Park, the Jesus Center, and the Newman Center. That event will be held Monday, April 1, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the university is closed in honor of Chávez.

Chico State President Paul Zingg said he strongly supports Cats in the Community.

“I am very proud of these students and impressed with their energy and commitment,” he wrote in an email. “I look forward to joining them on Monday for this day of service.”

Guzman, a senior studying criminal justice, said on Sunday, March 31, MEChA will help organize the annual César Chávez Day march through town to raise public awareness. That event will start at 3 p.m. on campus at the Student Services Center plaza and head through the intersection at Fifth and Ivy streets, ending up at the Chico City Plaza. There, speakers will talk about Chávez’s work and the importance of celebrating the holiday in appropriate ways.

Guzman said earlier in the month MEChA conducted its annual “Teach-Outs” to educate local K-12 students on the achievements of Chávez and the UFW.