In 1990, scores of Santa Monica High School students joined Cesar Chavez outside a local hotel in a peaceful protest against the use of harmful chemicals in California agriculture.
“Today marks a milestone,” the labor leader reportedly told the crowd, which had gathered near the site of an annual convention for fruit growers and distributors. “We’re here to tell the pesticide traffickers we will no longer tolerate the spraying in silence.”
Today — this today — marks another milestone.
It’s been 25 years since that rally, and the legacy of the union activist lives on as students in the local school district reflect on his impact during annual celebrations of Cesar Chavez Day.
The school board earlier this month passed a resolution encouraging “all schools and justice-minded people of the community to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez as a symbol of hope and justice.”
Recognition of the civil rights champion is particularly evident at Edison Language Academy, where second-grade students recently gave a themed concert featuring original songs about Chavez.
Using money collected through the district’s new fundraising model, the dual-immersion school on Virginia Avenue — where all children learn in English and Spanish — created a semester-long choral music program and started a songwriting residency for the 78 second-grade students.
Students spent six weeks penning lyrics about Chavez and learning other Latin American songs with the help of choral music teacher Jacqueline Fuentes, a native of Chile.
“Our students study about Cesar Chavez as a leader and someone who struggled to better the lives of others,” Edison principal Lori Orum said. “We teach about him as an important figure in California history and the history of the labor movement and as someone who brought about change through non-violence and organizing. His life and work is one that we hold up as an example for students when we talk about our shared responsibility to leave the world a little better than we find it.”
Edison educators have designated an evening to honor Chavez for the last eight or nine years, but the labor leader’s influence is felt year-round.
A large portrait of Chavez, which was painted by former fourth-grade students with the help of an arts teacher, hangs in the school cafeteria. Si se puede — “Yes, it is possible” — is a common refrain on campus.
The school community also honors Chavez through service projects each year, collecting supplies for the Corazon de Vida orphanages in Baja California, Mexico, and organizing a trip to spend time with children there. The children bond through discussions about school, birthdays and shared interests.
“Even though half of our families have low-enough incomes that they qualify for the school lunch program, they seem rich compared with the students from Corazon,” Orum said.
Orum added that Edison families have pooled money to support an orphan who is now in college. Si se puede — yes, it is possible.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.