Cal Poly’s Movimiento Estudiatil Xicana/o de Aztlan (MEXA) student organization held its annual march to honor Mexican-American civil rights activist César Chávez last Thursday.
A group of about 20 students and faculty marched from Dexter Lawn along Via Carta during UU Hour. The event also featured two speakers and a traditional Aztec dance.
MEXA is a national student organization that promotes the rights of Chicanos in the United States and encourages Chicano students to continue their education and become politically active.
Vanessa Soto, the Cal Poly chapter’s vice president, said the march is an important event for all Cal Poly students.
“Many people forget about the scope of César Chávez’s accomplishments and think that the struggle for Latinos in America is over, but it’s not true,” Soto said. “It’s important to call attention to the needs of a demographic that makes up such a large part of our country.”
The march honors Chávez’s commitment to the rights of migrant farm workers in California. Chávez was born into a family forced to become migrant workers and experienced the struggle of Mexican-American farm workers. He dedicated his adult life to supporting and encouraging farm workers to fight for their rights through non-violent means. In 1962, Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association to support American migrant farm workers.
The march began at 11 a.m. on Dexter Lawn, where several members dressed in homemade costumes and performed a traditional Aztec dance. Then the group marched down Via Carta carrying signs and shouting chants like “Viva Chávez!” and “The people united will never be divided!”
When the marchers reached Campus Market, club president Daniella Castro spoke about Chávez’s life and accomplishments and Dr. Alberto Pulido of University of California, San Diego, spoke about the importance of education in serving others as Chávez did.
The club also circulated a petition to boycott produce from Giumarra Vineyards, a grape-growing company in Bakersfield that MEXA claims is abusing workers and violating their rights.
Some members of Cal Poly faculty participate in the march every year. Modern Languages and Literatures professor Gloria Velasquez served as the MEXA faculty adviser for many years and considers herself the group’s mentor.
“This event is very important to the Chicano population at Cal Poly. Not only is it about commemorating César Chávez’s life, but our speakers address today’s issues. In 2006 we focused on an immigration bill that was very racist toward immigrants coming from Mexico,” Velasquez said.
This year the event focused on reminding people of the impact Chávez made on the lives of California’s farm workers. The club’s current adviser Jose Montelongo said the march also reminds people of the educational needs of Chicanos in America.
“Latinos are barred from many opportunities that other groups are given, and it starts with education. Segregation like this needs to be stopped if Latino students are to reach their potential and help bring change that Latinos need. The MEXA students are very committed to these goals,” Montelongo said.