Public Comment

Commentary: The Nature of Cesar Chavez

By Rafael Casal
Tuesday March 18, 2008

Since my childhood, the Berkeley Marina has been a place of sanctuary and reflection for my wandering mind and feet. As a child I went to birthday parties there, flew kites on windy days, and rolled down the big hills with my hermana. It was a place of infinite beauty, with a panoramic view of the bay area and a sunset that no words could be tailored for. Before we’d leave, my father would always calm us to take a moment and appreciate our place in the universe. We would breathe in deep, feel the setting sun against our faces, and stare at the horizon with a humbling appreciation for the world we often forget is bigger than ourselves. To this day, I still frequent the Berkeley Marina and César Chávez Park, and am always met with the same feelings of reflection and awe during my peaceful visits. 

On the top of one of the far hills is an ancient looking arrangement of stones reminiscent of Mayan ruins or a Stonehenge—things of nature aligned to create a circle that catches your eye as you walk closer, three large boulders set along the horizon to the west, mirrored by another three lining the east. In the center is a small stone-cut pillar that only obstructs the grass around it enough for you to wonder how it got there. 

This is the César Chávez Memorial Solar Calendar, something ever so delicately lifted out of the ground to help guide your thoughts to a place of reflection. At first glance the stones seem themselves to be only loosely forming a circle, but if you read the description surrounding the center stone, it explains that every stone along the perimeter is a marker, direct alignments that provide a map of the of the seasons, the summer and winter solstice, of time, of change, and of our constant movement in the universe. It is a reminder of the very things I was told about in my childhood, about remaining humble, about appreciation, prompting self-reflection and healing from the petty damages we scar ourselves with during our mundane routines that become so irrelevant when reminded of the bigger picture.  

Engraved on four of the stones are values; hope, determination, courage, and tolerance. I can think of no better words of wisdom to guide these reflective moments. They bear such weight, and to a young man like myself amidst much confusion, such words are the daybreak of clarity I need to sort through the quarrels of right and wrong in a world of increasing grey areas.  

However, I am aware of my privilege, not all children get exposed to such wonderful experiences and spiritual guidance in their youth. I have brought many friends to the Berkeley Marina, and only since the solar calendar project have we been able to find these moments of reflection together. I see the project as the wisdom of our elders before us, forever reminding us that we must think outside ourselves. 

A big component of the project is bringing elementary school children to the park to experience it as I did as a child, using the calendar as a destination point for their break from PlayStation and Freeze-Tag. To reach young people on a common understanding of refection and contemplation, through four values carved into stones that they may have never learned or truly understood before their visit. While they are there, they will experience all of the wonders of nature that exist there, the wildlife, the spectacular view, the infinite space to run and play, but most of all, a chance for them to experience themselves in a safe calming space that few are fortunate enough to be exposed to.  

This project is about sharing the park with the next generation, passing down wisdom, providing guidance to young developing minds before the complexities of young adulthood set in. This project is for people of color who need more heroes than just Martin Luther King, for Latinos like myself who rarely find our triumphs understood and reflected in such a selfless way for us to learn from. This small arrangement in nature is a vessel for an aspect of education that is frequently passed over in the school system, and as a result leaves many without the guidance and mentoring that young people need in the most formidable years of their lives.  

In a March 4 commentary in the Planet, the author argued that someone should have checked with veteran guests of César Chávez Park before installing such a project. That it was an undeclared addition and that it obstructs the flow of nature and peace that exists when walking there. A reminder of our human footprint on the world in a place we go to try and get away from it.  

I am forever grateful that someone did not wait for my permission to give me hope, to reaffirm determination, to remind me to be tolerant. to instill me with courage when I have needed such reminders most. In a time when so much is fast paced, when young people are faced with so many obstacles, how dare someone offer guidance, offer a place to forget the day-to-day and be immersed in the change of the seasons, to watch a spectacular sunset and understand our movement through the universe, to be reminded that anyone can do great things in this world for their community, for their people, for us all. The person responsible for the solar calendar at César Chávez Park in Berkeley has done a great thing for his community, in ways that will trickle down through the generations that have and will benefit from its purpose.  

Thank you for your “obstruction.” Just the thing I need to stop me in my tracks and take a moment. If the solar calendar is a reminder of our footprint in nature, than what a huge step it is for us all.  


Rafael Casal is an Oakland resident.