Cesar Chavez’ Story Inspires, Informs on Current Struggles

Cesar Chavez, who was honored yesterday in California and Texas, was a champion community organizer and civil rights leader who co-founded the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) with Dolores Huerta. His presence and life work still positively reverberate in many of San Jose’s neighborhoods just east of downtown.

Chavez, a Latino American, fought for better working conditions, higher wages and better living arrangements for farm workers. He dropped out of school in 7th grade to become a full time migrant farm worker. He was soft-spoken, but his voice was powerful and helped lead massive shifts in the way farm workers are treated. His use of non-violent protests—and subsequent victories for his union members—is a critical lesson for San Jose youth to know and understand.

Playing in theaters across San Jose and the country is a feature-length film about his life: “Cesar Chavez: An American Hero.”

Every middle and high school student in San Jose should be required to see and discuss the film in his or her history/social science class. My school board colleagues in the 19 school districts in San Jose and 12 others in Santa Clara County should also find a way to watch the film. It is an important local story with worldwide significance.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) coordinates a migrant education program for students and families in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, San Benito, Alameda and San Benito counties. Migrant education services are among the many direct-service programs provided to students that local districts do not serve. (SCCOE also provides services to children with special needs, incarcerated youth, alternative education, Head Start and state preschool.)

The Migrant Education Program’s top two priorities are: 1) Ensuring that migrant children receive appropriate educational services that address their special needs in a coordinated and efficient manner; and 2) Design programs to help migrant children overcome educational disruption, cultural and language barriers, and health related problems.

Students eligible for these services must not have graduated high school, be younger than 22, and work as a migrant agricultural worker or migrant fisher, or have a parent, spouse or guardian who is a migrant agricultural worker or fisher.

At the SCCOE’s March 19 meeting, the Board upheld an appeal by Sunrise Middle School to continue its education program for 150 students, 90 percent of whom are Latino and eligible for free and reduced lunches. Even though the Board heard rationale reasons from SJUSD Superintendent Vince Mathews and his staff on why Sunrise Charter Middle School should no longer exist, five members of the SCCOE Board felt the students’ educational, social and emotional needs will be better met at Sunrise.

Joseph Albers, principal of Cristo Rey, the new Jesuit high school to begin in 2014-15, said at the SCCOE Board meeting that he had interviewed dozens of Sunrise 8th graders after their applications were completed by the school’s principal, and he was inspired by their grit and determination. He said their goals exceeded those of the students he had interviewed from traditional SJUSD middle schools.

I believe that if Cesar Chavez was alive today he would have hailed the SCCOE Board’s decision. With just a 7th grade education, his grit and determination changed our country. And right now we badly need a powerful civil rights voice and a non-violent movement to change the trajectory of Latino/a youth who continue to be underserved by too many traditional public schools.

That is the reason I support Rocketship, Alpha, Ace, KIPP, Downtown College Prep, Summit and all the charter schools focusing on changing the course of history. We must make dramatic changes, even if the SCCOE Board continues to be sued by districts that wish to keep an unsustainable status quo.

The time has come for all of us to cooperate and collaborate similar to the manner in which Chavez and UFW persevered. Obviously both sides during these contentious times in education view their positions as sacrosanct, but cooler heads can prevail in order to do what is right for all. Count me in for the continued battle until the winners are ALL children enrolled in our public schools.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. There’s already way too much union indoctrination of students by unionized teachers.
    Believe it or not kids, the US was a great country even before the “civil rights” movement.
    Less Cesar Chavez and MLK Jr.
    More James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

    • > Less Cesar Chavez and MLK Jr.

      Well, maybe not, Galt. More Cesar and more MLK Jr. might be a good thing.

      “Cesar Estrada Chavez strongly believed in enforcing immigration laws, thereby reducing the deleterious effects of inexpensive labor on the wages of farm workers in the United States.”


      And MLK Jr’s legacy is something that MANY, MANY conservatives and libertarians can get behind:

      “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, free at last!”

      Not something you would hear from the lips of President For Life Obama, or Designated Next President Hillary Rodham, even in her best faux black sharecropper dialect.

  2. I have exhibited restraint – until now – about SCCBOE member Joseph Di Salvo’s education column in the San Jose Inside. Mr. Di Salvo, you have absolutely no idea what Cesar Chavez, a union leader, might have thought about Charter Schools,

  3. Like Rose, we can’t stand by while the name of Cesar Chavez is denigrated and abused. Chavez labored to give labors a voice, to help them unite and organize. It is absurd to think that Chavez would have jumped on the education privatization bandwagon, a movement which at its very roots hopes to de-unionize education, and turn control of our schools over to corporations.

    Read this post by Professor Julian Vasquez, whose family was a part of Chavez’s movement:

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