Cesar Chavez Dinner Celebrates Life and Hispanic Culture

 A dinner held at San Bernardino Valley College recently provided great food and conversation around one of history's most important civil rights activists, Cesar Chavez, and his decades-long struggle that continues today.

Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, was honored on campus for his role in changing the brutal working conditions that gave rise to the labor movement.

Ed Gomez said that he and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A) started the dinner about 16 years ago on campus in tribute to Chavez, who died in 1993. When Gomez came to SBVC as full-time faculty, he said it was important to take on a meaningful project that could exemplify and recognize the activist's strength and dedication to the farmer's works.

“In our first year, we did a vigil. After that, we reassessed and said we needed to do something that would be more upbeat and honor the workers,” said Gomez, a history professor, and Mecha De SBVC club advisor.

Chavez, the son of migrant workers, also experienced backbreaking field work to support his family throughout his teen years, before serving two years in the Navy. From there, he co-founded what is now known as the United Farm Workers union, along with Dolores Huerta, who was also honored at SBVC recently.

In the mid-60's, he pulled Latino and Filipino workers together to strike, he boycotted table grapes, and led the charge for fair wages and humane working conditions throughout his adult life. In 1968, the year of his 25-day food fast modeled after the nonviolent tenets of Gandhi, Chavez visited San Bernardino Valley College.

Gomez said the dinner, organized by himself and Mecha De SBVC club, was also in honor of the local farm workers and braceros, who, at that time were off the 10 Freeway and California, and on Mt. Vernon and 9th Street. The braceros program was an exploitative U.S. program, allowing cheap legal immigrant labor and unfair working conditions. That program officially ended in 1964, even as elements of exploitation continued on.

 Mecha De SBVC and Gomez also were involved in making Cesar Chavez' birthday a holiday for the state of California, which went into effect in 2003, six years after the death of the labor leader. “We had a tent city on our campus and a five-day hunger strike by the students and myself. That's how most of this got started,” he said.

The dinner is just one way that the college and Mecha De SBVC is moving ahead on issues that remain close to the legacy of Chavez, he said. The club continues to outreach and volunteers to help the local homeless population, women in shelters, farm workers, and children and underprivileged families.

“We do things all over the place to try to help day laborers in our communities,” he said. “We have continued his legacy by promoting the awareness to what he stood for and the duty we have in our community.”