About 200 people, half of whom were grade-school students, gathered to celebrate the state’s first César Chávez Day with poetry, dance and learning.
César Chávez Day of Service and Learning was signed into law last year by Gov. Gray Davis, making
California the first state in the United States to so honor the Latino labor leader. Chávez, who founded the United Farm Workers, died in 1993 at the age of 66 after a life of dedication to the struggle to achieve rights for migrant farm workers.
Students from Craigmont, Martin Luther King, Jr, Thousand Oaks, Rosa Parks and John Muir elementary schools, – many of them carrying bright red UFW union fla gs – took part in a project that taught them about tracking the sun’s movement across the sky. Ancient agricultural civilizations learned to track the sun to determine the best times of the year for planting and harvesting, they learned.
The learning projects, conducted with assistance of employees from Lawrence Berkeley Hall of Science, were a sample of what park visitors will be able to learn at the proposed César Chávez Memorial Solar Calendar. The solar calendar is an architectural structure that keeps track of the seasons by monitoring length of the sun’s shadow.
According to the event’s program notes, classic examples of solar calendars are Stonehenge in England, the El Castillo Pyramid in Mexico and the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming.
The solar calendar will be built on the Horizon Mound, one of the many rolling hillocks in the park. “This is a fabulous location,” said Santiago Casal, director of the calendar project. “It will be a field classroom where people can learn about the seasons. How the sun, earth and moon work to create our climate.”
Chávez’s nephew, Frederico Chávez, a Berkeley resident, said the event would have made his uncle very proud. He said the annual holiday will assure Chávez’s life-long struggle for fairness and humane treatment for migrant farm workers would always be remembered. “The effort of the state to honor his legacy shows they understand the essence of his message,” he said.
Students were separated into four groups, which represented the four compass points and a concept. The East is non-violence, the West is perseverance, the North is courage and the South is hope.
Several students from Thousand Oaks read poems they had written for Chávez. Afterwards, they formed a single file line and marched across the park, labor flags overhead, to tour the future site of the solar calendar and then returned to their four groups to read tributes to Chávez. Then the students were led in eight rounds of the chant “Que viva César,” for each year since the labor leader’s death.
Mayor Shirley Dean addressed the crowd calling the event historic and reminding the students of the importance of the work Chávez did. Councilmember Dona Spring and several city department heads attended the event as well, including City Manager Weldon Rucker, Parks and Waterfront Director Lisa Caronna and Health Human Services Director Fred Merdrano.
Dressed in traditional Aztec vestments, the Cuauhtli Mitotiani Mexica dancers, Berkeley students ranging in age from 5 -17, performed an Aztec fuego (fire) dance. The dance group’s program director, Adrianna Betti, said the dance is purification ritual.
As the event came to an end, Rosa Parks third-grader Mayahuel Montoya was laughing with her classmates as they walked toward the parking lot. “I think it’s really great for it to be here in such a natural place,” she said. “It was really good.”