Parent Leads Move to Honor Chávez Day

Photo of Chavez, founder of UFW and civil rights leader.

César E. Chávez is the late founder and president of the United Farm Workers of America. He was born on a small farm near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, and began working in the fields at the age of 10. In 1942, Chavez quit school in the seventh grade. Despite his hardships and lack of education, he went on to create a movement in support of farmworker rights and dignity.

Silvia Rodarte, the ECMHSP Policy Council Vice President, sees many similarities between her own life and that of César Chávez — a man she admires greatly. And like him, she tries to inspire positive change in her own community.

Silvia has lived in Belle Glade, Florida, since she was a little girl. When she was seven, her parents would pack up a few things into a car and drive up with the family to North Carolina to work in the green bean and pumpkin fields during the harvest season. When their work was done, they would make their way back to Florida.

Silvia, ECMSHP Policy Council Vice President, at work.

Silvia remembers fondly how as a child, she would spend hours playing in the chile and cucumber fields, occasionally helping her parents. Once she turned 15, she began working full time in the Florida’s lettuce field. By age 16, her priority became her newborn daughter. She dropped out of high school and focused on making ends meet for her new family; she continued the family’s tradition of migrant farm work.

After having her second child in 2005, she enrolled her newborn and her 3-year-old daughters into the ECMHSP’s Head Start program in Belle Glade, Florida. She was determined to give her children every opportunity to get a high-quality education so that they could have a better life than she had.

Today, Chávez’s legacy is honored on what would have been his 90th birthday. In 2014, former President Barack Obama proclaimed March 31 as César Chávez Day and hosted a celebration at the White House in his honor, but this day is not recognized as a federal holiday. Yet each year, many states and cities host parades, marches and ceremonies in his honor.

For the first time, ECMHSP will be joining organizations across the country in celebrating César Chávez Day as an official holiday in our offices and centers – and this is thanks to Silvia. While reviewing the ECMHSP holiday calendar, Silvia noticed an important holiday missing: César Chávez Day.

“César Chávez is a very important person in the lives of farmworkers,” she says. “He started the first farmworker union, and made sure people in this country heard the voices of farmworkers and honor their rights.”

She wanted to make sure that he would be remembered by the ECMHSP community, even if it meant one day less of Head Start program services for her own children. She brought this up at the October Policy Council meeting and got the approval from both the Policy Council and the Board of Directors to add this day in place of another federally-recognized holiday. She is so proud of her accomplishment.

On this day, Silvia will be working in Florida’s fields, but with her usual smile even brighter. She is finishing up work in the corn harvest before preparing her family to move to Willard, Ohio, in May for the onion harvest. She works hard to provide many of the fresh fruits and vegetables we are eating, and it’s important to her that everyone remembers that March 31 is the day we honor of the man that continues to inspire farmworkers across the country.

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
— Cesar E. Chavez, 1984

Farmworker Families Need DAPA & DACA+

More than 4,000 people wait outside of the Supreme Court building during the oral arguments of DAPA and DACA+.

This morning the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two of President Obama’s important executive actions providing administrative relief from immigration enforcement: Deferred Action for Parents of American-born Children (DAPA) and the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA+). The case will determine the future of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United State hoping for relief from the threat of deportation that would rip their families apart.

In the absence of Congressional action, DAPA and DACA+ would improve the lives of undocumented immigrants with deep ties to the community. Although these programs are not perfect, they would provide undocumented immigrants with options to live and work in the United States. And—more importantly—they will help keep families together.

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Supporters of DAPA and DACA+ march to the steps of the Supreme Court of the United States.

On the steps of the Supreme Court building, more than 4,000 people gathered this morning from across the country for a rally, voicing their support through chants, poster signs, and a march. ECMHSP joins the many organizations standing in support of the president’s actions.  According to Farmworker Justice, one in six beneficiaries of DAPA and DACA+ will be farmworkers or directly related to farm work.  This includes many of the farmworker families we serve at ECMHSP centers.

Take Maria Adame Dominguez’s story for example. Maria immigrated to the United States at the age of nine.  Although she was a bright student at school, Maria became discouraged when she realized her options to continue her studies were limited due to her undocumented status.  She decided to drop out of school, and shortly after having her first son, she joined her father in the mushroom fields.  When she enrolled her son

Maria and her children's lives have been improved through DACA.

Maria and her children’s lives have been improved through DACA.

in the ECMHSP Head Start program, she became involved in the ECMHSP governance and quickly rose through the ranks; in 2014, she was elected as the ECMHSP Policy Council President.  Although Maria continued to work in the fields, she never gave up on her dreams of earning a college degree.  After receiving her DACA, she enrolled back in school and is currently studying to earn her Associate’s degree in Early Childhood Management.  In addition, Maria applied to work at the very ECMHSP Head Start center that helped her family, and is now the Family Service Coordinator with Pathstone Corporation, a delegate agency of ECMHSP.  [You can read Maria’s full story, “A Parent’s Dream,” in the ECMSHP’s 2015 Annual Report.]

Just as Maria’s life and that of her children have been improved through DACA, we know many more families can benefit from DAPA and DACA+, especially our migrant and seasonal farmworker families.  In response to the great need in our farmworker communities, ECMHSP developed Farmworker Families United!, an immigration legal services program that provides pro bono legal assistance to farmworkers whose children are enrolled in our Head Start centers.  Through this program, ECMHSP has helped many parents apply for DACA, which currently remains in place, and has seen the positive effect the deferred action has on the lives of our farmworker families.  If the Supreme Court upholds President Obama’s executive actions, ECMHSP will be ready to continue helping our families enroll in the important deferred action programs.

Many of our families have been in the country for a long time and are interwoven into the fabric of our society.  Farmworkers are responsible for providing our nation with a safe and secure source of fresh food and vegetables every day.  The very least we can do is reward their labor by fighting for their families and supporting actions that will keep their families together.

The DAPA and DACA+ programs could improve the lives of millions of undocumented families, including our farmworker families.