California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) along with the College of Health Sciences and Human Services (CHSHS) virtually celebrated National Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 22 with the Diversity Celebration Series.
The event featured guest speakers Jose Angel Gutierrez and Eduardo Chavez and promoted the healthy discussion of wellbeing, as well as protecting civil rights of Hispanics by building the foundation of identity.
Dean of CHSHS Britt Rios-Ellis began the event by expressing her gratitude for hosting another Diversity Celebration Series. “This is a very special event,” Rios-Ellis said. “We have made diversity and inclusive excellence a vital part of our college since it started in 2014.”
Rios-Ellis introduced the two guest speakers of the night with gracious honor. Civil rights leader Gutierrez led the La Raza Unida Party movement in Texas and throughout the nation. Chavez is the grandson of legendary civil rights leader Cesear Chavez, who took on the role of a filmmaker when he created “Hailing Cesar,” a quest seeking the true identity of his notorious grandfather.
“The film dives into the identity and labor rights of farm workers,” Chavez said. “Today the labor rights, and the labor rights of farm workers in the 1960s and my family history.”
Rios-Ellis asked Chavez how his parents, particularly the relationship with his father, had helped shape Chavez’s identity. “I always say before this journey I had a great relationship with my dad,” Chavez said. “But really, the relationship was based on shared interests.”
Chavez noted his father has always been there for him, stayed by his side and remained his number one supporter.
Despite their close relationship, Chavez was nervous to feature his father in the film, afraid his shy personality would pose difficulty when answering questions. “Every time we had a conversation on camera, he would open up,” Chavez said. “He became excited to know I wanted to learn about his upbringing and the relationship with his father. I feel more emotionally connected with my father now.”
Chavez premiered the film to his father for the first time in theaters, equipped with a full audience in what Chavez describes as “a life milestone sharing these moments with him.”
Having explored his identity and discovered the inner workings of his family history, Chavez is excited to continue making a modern movement by working on future projects.
The next documentary Chavez plans to unveil highlights immigration. “We are trying to humanize this political issue,” Chavez said. “I want to tell the stories of immigrants from all different backgrounds that have come to the United States for all different reasons.”
“Someone who sacrifices so much to come to this country and does all the right things, no one can degrade or dehumanize them,” Chavez said.
Gutierrez knows of the sacrifices one makes being Hispanic in America. “I was born in Crystal City, Texas at the time of segregation,” Gutierrez said. “All of the terrible places were about two blocks from my house.”
Building the foundation of identity from a rough start, Gutierrez lived in a neighborhood with no paved sidewalks and attended a former Japanese detention camp in middle school. When his father unexpectedly passed during his younger years, Gutierrez was exposed to a non-segregated way of life moving from Texas to the fields of the Midwest and later to California.
Being inspired from the life he lived outside of Texas, Gutierrez set on a mission to change the mentality and laws of those still promoting segregation in Crystal City and towns alike. “Together we formed the Mexican Youth Organization (MAYO) and we decided we are going to be the catalyst for change,” Gutierrez said. “We were going to be the activists, the military and the protestors.”
Gutierrez helped Chavez discover more information about his grandfather’s identity, displaying a PowerPoint presentation referencing the significant timeline of Cesar Chavez’s life. Being one of the four horsemen leading next to Chavez, Gutierrez gave first-hand stories and memories for Chavez to reflect on.
Describing the powerful tactics Chavez used to relinquish change consisted of striking, boycotting and fasting. “We as Mexican origin people, or in this case farmworkers, the most important power is our numbers, our labor of consumption,” Guiterrez said.
“You cannot oppress people who are not afraid,” he said.
One student expressed concerns over being accepted into current Hispanic movements, fearing judgement due to being raised Anglo and never learning Spanish. When asked how to combat this identity issue and connect with the community, Gutierrez recommends speaking in Spanish with friends or watching television in Spanish.
“I don’t think anyone should feel less because they don’t speak the language,” Chavez said.
Another student was curious about how to stay true to one’s identity amongst the labels being thrown towards individuals. “The best way to fight is to call yourself what foot fits best,” Gutierrez said.
Stay true to yourself, ignore the labels and identify with what feels comfortable to you. One thing reigns prominent about identity, it’s ours to decide.
CSUMB and CHSHS are virtually hosting the next Diversity Celebration Series event on Oct. 22 with author Sonia Shah.