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Award-winning author to share civil rights legacy of Cesar Chavez

Miriam+Pawel
Miriam Pawel

Many cities across the United States have streets named after Martin Luther King, Jr., but another name — this one with a Hispanic inflection — also invokes a civil rights history on city avenues.
The award-winning author Miriam Pawel will speak in recognition of October as Hispanic Heritage Month about the famous Hispanic-American civil rights activist Cesar Chavez. The lecture, entitled “Cesar Chavez: The Man, The Myth, and The Legacy,” will cover the life and activism of Chavez.
Chavez was a Mexican-American farm worker who co-founded what became known as the United Farm Workers union. The UFW became one of the largest and most influential labor unions during the 1960s and 1970s, and Chavez became widely known and supported as an activist both for farm workers and Latino Americans.
Pawel, who has written two books on Chavez, is traveling to College Station for the first time from Los Angeles. Pawel said she hopes to increase general knowledge of Chavez and the legacy he left behind.
“Cesar Chavez is still, to this day, one of the most important Latino heroes in this country, and it’s important that people understand who he was and understand him in all of his complexity,” Pawel said. “Many people only know him from stamps and schools and streets.”
Pawel said Chavez’s methods and goals from the 1960s and 1970s are still very relevant in today’s society.
“The methods and examples that [Chavez] pioneered have a lot of relevance in any sort of fight for social justice,” Pawel said. “He showed that people who were very poor could take on the system and make a difference.”
Pawel said the issues faced by Chavez are also important from a student’s standpoint.
“Anyone that’s interested in any sort of social justice can learn a lot from what he did,” Pawel said. “And I also think students should care that he is such an important figure in history about whom very little is known about.”
The lecture is sponsored by the Latino/Latina Studies Working Group, an A&M Glasscock Center project led by A&M professors Monica Neshyba and Felipe Hinojosa. The group is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike in California, Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa said Chavez’s story helps to better explain the Latino American Civil Rights Movement that happened alongside the others of the same time period.
“We tend to have a very myopic view of American civil rights that deals specifically with the important activities of African Americans … but the Civil Rights Movement was much more expansive and included many other groups,” Hinojosa said. “I think that’s what Miriam was hoping to understand, at least with Mexican Americans.”
Hinojosa said today’s society could learn from the Civil Rights Movement of the past.
“We’re living in a moment in history that is corrupt with racial strife, we’re living in a moment in American history where the demographics are rapidly changing, and I think there’s a lot that we can learn from the Civil Rights Movement about working across cultural differences and coming together,” Hinojosa said.
Derin Oduye, president of Texas A&M Amnesty International, an organization dedicated to promoting equal rights, said there are still many issues facing Hispanic Americans, and things like Wednesday’s lecture are the first step toward combating them.
“There are a lot of negative stereotypes that need to be eradicated,” Oduye said. “One of the best ways to change that is by educating people. When I hear people say ignorant statements, I think it’s because they are not educated on those particular topics.”
Oduye said gaining a better understanding of Hispanic American social movements, such as Chavez’s, will help with today’s issues as well.
“I think it’s easy to forget how far we have come and how much further we have to go,” Oduye said. “Hispanic Heritage Month is a huge educational platform on its own and it’s awesome to see it talked about on campuses.”
Pawel’s “Cesar Chavez: The Man, The Myth, and The Legacy” will take place at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Rudder 401. The event is free and open to the public.

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