Cesar Chavez Day – celebration or appropriation?

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Cesar Chavez Day – celebration or appropriation?

Photo credit: Bianca Quilantan

Photo credit: Bianca Quilantan

Photo credit: Bianca Quilantan

Photo credit: Bianca Quilantan

Bianca Quilantan

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Cesar Chavez day historically has the reputation of being a day for Chico State students to bust out their ponchos, sombreros and fake mustaches, and participate in a Tequila Sunrise.

Each year, Latino groups on campus host marches, educational fairs and events to combat the stereotypes perpetuated during the holiday celebrations. For some students, it becomes more difficult to understand why they must continue to ask for respect for leaders honored in their culture.

Carlos Torres, a second-year undeclared major and public relations officer for M.E.Ch.A., said respect for Cesar Chavez is what they are looking for.

“We don’t expect Chico students to know who he is, but just respect that others hold him in a high position and he should be respected,” he said.

Jesus Toscano, third-year music industry major and president of M.E.ch.A, said Chavez did not want to be glorified but wanted people to continue organizing. Toscano also said people who are not Latino should care about Chavez because he fought for human rights.

“He didn’t do it for just Latinos or Filipinos. He did it because farm workers were human,” Toscano said. “We’re talking about people who had to work 8 hours and were not allowed to use the restroom. They had to pay for water. They didn’t have shade. They didn’t have a lunch break. They were underpaid – if paid at all.”


Photo credit: George Johnston

Because of Chavez’s work, taking the holiday to party and drink in his name, Toscano said, is where the issue of inappropriate celebrations begins.

“I don’t think people can justify their drinking by doing it in Chavez’s name,” he said. “If you want to get hammered, that’s on you. But to say you’re doing it because of Chavez, that’s when ignorance comes in and how it get distorted into something that is not appropriate.”

Inappropriate celebrations, Toscano said, happened on the “‘streets’ where the predominantly white communities are” and where most sombrero, fake mustache and poncho wearing party-goers were sighted.

“It’s like, you choose to not acknowledge that (Latino) community every other day of your life, but just because a specific day has a Latino’s name on it, you want to take that and use that as an excuse to go out and get hammered,” he said. “To me that’s ridiculous.”

Torres said while most students use every break to party, and do not target Cesar Chavez day, they do appropriate Mexican culture.

“They don’t do it with bad intentions. They just see a party,” he said. “There’s this idea that Chico is a party school, and it’s that norm that is kind of troublesome.”

Cassandra Hernandez, a third-year criminal justice and multicultural studies major, is a member of the Brown Berets, a organization created to fight for Chicano rights.

Leading up to Chavez weekend, new students are warned about how it is celebrated, Hernandez said, it is difficult to combat the appropriation.

“Some of us can’t even fight back because we yell, we are looked at as wrong or we’re peaceful and looked at as we don’t care,” she said.

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Photo credit: Bianca Quilantan

Dressing up and appropriating Mexican culture angers some Latino students and creates more issues, Hernandez said.

“The only reason I get super mad is because I’ve seen it,” she said. “Walking out of Star Liquor, a guy had two cases of beer, a sombrero and a sarape on. Even if he was Latino, why would you wear that? I feel like as Latinos and as a Chicana, I have to be less stereotypical that day.”

It’s a struggle, and “the fight never stops,” Torres said.

Torres said his ideal Chavez day celebration would be sombrero-less.

“What happens on Martin Luther King Jr. day? Nothing,” he said. “We have the day off because of him. No one says ‘yeah MLK made life better for us. Let’s go out and drink,’ but it takes years to change.”

Although it is difficult to picture, Hernandez said her ideal day would involve not having to push to be heard and respected.

“We shouldn’t have to worry about what we are going to see each year or what is going to happen this year,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to push this hard.”

Bianca Quilantan can be reached at [email protected] or @biancaquilan on Twitter.

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