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Students learn about Cesar Chavez
Teacher knew civil rights activist and labor leader
For the past week, Obdulia Alvarado’s third grade students at Monte Vista Elementary have been studying about the life of Cesar Chavez — a civil rights activist and labor law leader who fought for farmworkers’ rights.
“I have 16 children whose parents are farmworkers. I also have 26 parents who come twice a week to ESL (English as a second language) classes,” Alvarado said. “So I’ve been promoting Cesar Chavez day. We’ve been talking about the history, and bringing vegetables and fruits into the classroom and talking about the food on the table and the role Cesar Chavez played. Basically comparing the values of Cesar Chavez to Martin Luther King Jr.”
Knowing that their teacher knew Chavez made it more interesting for the students.
“My teacher knew him and marched with him. She also attended his funeral in Delano,” Hayley Steele said. “Mrs. Alvarado showed us pictures and told us her experience as a farmworker and how she participated in the march to help make a difference in the life of a farmworker. She knows the history of the farmworker and educates us so that we can know about their life and the sacrifices they went through and are still experiencing in some parts of the United States.”
On Thursday, the anniversary of Chavez’ birthday — a national holiday known as Cesar Chavez Day that serves as a tribute to his commitment to social justice and respect for human dignity — the students celebrated by having a special guest visit their class.
Dr. Ramon Resa, a local pediatrician who has written the book “Out of the Fields; My Journey from Farmworker Boy to Pediatrician,” talked to the students about his life. The students listened as Resa talked about being abandoned by his mother and of how he was raised by grandparents who made him work in the fields. Resa also talked about the horrible conditions in the fields — and some of the differences Chavez inspired by the marches.
Alvarado listened and offered her story.
“I also marched with Cesar Chavez from Visalia all the way to Porterville,” Alvarado said. “He made a big difference in our jobs.”
Alvarado who worked in the fields as a child, talked about the lack of bathrooms in the fields, the pesticides they were exposed to, the long hours and the lack of clean drinking water. The marches were to bring the injustices to light — to let people know what was happening, she said.
“Basically it was to make them understand that farm workers were people too. That we were being discriminated against,” Alvarado said. “To make people realize we were human beings. Cesar Chavez offered the people hope.”
Also sharing her recollection of Chavez was another teacher in the classroom, Barbara Bonnar Loehner.
“We’re of German descent but our family was poor and we were discriminated against too,” Loehner said.
Loehner shared the story of how her father became the deputy district attorney and defended Dolores Huerta — a civil leader known for co-founding the United Farmworkers of America with Chavez. Loehner talked about the hung jury and how Huerta walked because of her father’s work.
As the stories continued, the students listened attentively, asking their teachers and Resa questions.
As Resa exited, the talk eventually focused on Chavez again.
“Cesar Chavez will always be a hero of the people, especially the farmworker. I will continue to learn more about him not only in March but throughout the year,” Emily Lemus said. “I am very lucky that Mrs. Alvarado knows his story and shares her experiences as a migrant farmworker with us.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045, or email@example.com.