This year’s Cesar Chavez Day celebration in Livingston was one for the city’s history books.
Librado Chavez Jr., the youngest brother of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, visited the city, stopping by schools and the council chambers to share stories about his brother’s life as an activist.
Librado Chavez, 80, was accompanied by wife Mary Ann and daughter Rachel Chavez. The family first stopped at Campus Park Elementary School, where they were welcomed by students and faculty with art and poetry.
He told the kindergarten through fifth-grade students stories about working in the fields as a child. His brother, Cesar, only received an eighth-grade education; he made it to the ninth grade. “There was not enough money, so instead we had to go out to the fields,” Librado Chavez said.
“Kids your age were out in the fields,” he told students. That is why Cesar Chavez valued education so much, he shared.
Besides education, according to Librado Chavez, his brother’s top values included nonviolence and volunteerism. These are values he said he hopes students pick up in reading and learning about his brother.
Cesar Chavez, who started the United Farm Workers union, is recognized annually across the state and other parts of the country for his work in improving the working conditions of field workers. Cesar Chavez visited Livingston several times over the years, according to his brother.
“This keeps the cause alive,” Librado Chavez told the Sun-Star about why he continues to attend events such as the one Tuesday. “If we teach this generation (about Cesar’s work), then they can pass it on to the next generation.”
Cesar Chavez’s niece Rachel Chavez said Cesar Chavez Day is bittersweet for the family. “It brings us joy to be able to remember his legacy, but at the same time we wish that he could be here,” she said.
The family is grateful that people and children continue to show interest in learning about Cesar Chavez, she added. She believes that as long as the interest continues, then there is hope in addressing and finding solutions to the ongoing struggles in the farming community.
Exposure to hazardous pesticides, for example, continues to be a problem in some farming areas and is an issue that needs more attention, Rachel Chavez believes.
“My uncle was an ordinary man, but he did extraordinary things by educating others,” she said. “His work needs to be continued.”
Under Principal George Solis, Campus Elementary has celebrated Cesar Chavez Day for the past 10 years, but this is the first time students have had a visit from Chavez family members. Solis, who will be retiring at the end of this school year, said it was a historic day for the school and for the city of Livingston.
In preparation for Librado Chavez’s visit, the students had been learning about Cesar Chavez and agriculture in the classroom. After hearing the Chavez family speak, the students participated in a service project in which they planted flowers on campus and around the community.
Flowers, school staff members explained, are a symbol of peace, and Chavez was known for his messages of nonviolence. The project also helps teach students the importance of community service, Solis said.
Librado Chavez and his family also spoke to students at Selma Herndon Elementary School and Livingston Middle School. The Chavez family was also present for the Livingston Police Foundation’s fundraising event, at which community members were invited for a meet-and-greet with Librado Chavez.
Donations gathered at the event will go toward the Police Canine Program, according to Livingston police Chief Ruben Chavez.
Chief Chavez, no relation to the Chavez family, was the one responsible for inviting Librado Chavez to Livingston. He said he reached out to the family early enough so they were able to commit a whole day to Livingston.
Chief Chavez said he saw this as a special opportunity to pay tribute to the work Principal Solis has been doing at Campus Elementary on Cesar Chavez Day and to give the Livingston community an opportunity to hear from those who knew Cesar Chavez best.