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The real reason Chico State parties on Chavez

Students+party+on+a+roof+on+Chavez+in+2014.+Cesar+Chavez+Day+has+been+observed+by+Chico+State+since+2001.+Photo+by+Annie+Paige.
Students party on a roof on Chavez in 2014. Cesar Chavez Day has been observed by Chico State since 2001. Photo by Annie Paige.

Cesar Chavez was a pillar of worker’s rights, why has his birthday become a day Chico State students party?

 

Cesar Chavez was a labor organizer and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association which became the United Farm Workers. Chavez and the UFW successfully increased wages and improved working conditions for migrant farmers by advocating, organizing and leading strikes and boycotts

 

Chavez is renowned for his commitment to the farmworker community, in which he was raised, and for his work involving Latin American civil rights. He is recognized as the driving force behind the Farmworkers Movement

 

His nonviolent work was responsible for many of the positive changes still in practice today, which protect the rights of workers. His birthday, March 31, became a federal holiday in 2014 made to honor his revolutionary work and his lasting legacy. 

 

In Chico, college students in the past have used the day off as an opportunity to get day-drunk on beer and tequila while wearing tacky sombreros and maybe a cartoonish fake mustache. Conversations around Chavez Day in Chico are always rightfully fraught with discussion of cultural appropriation

 

Shameless appropriation aside, why do people party on Chavez at all? Other schools or college towns don’t associate the day off with partying. Students at Davis, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obisbo and Santa Cruz all anecdotally reported little to no partying. It seems to be a uniquely Chico phenomenon.

 

The tradition of alcohol-fueled, morning-to-night ragers on Chavez Day has a recorded but vague history in Chico. 

 

Cesar Chavez Day became a state holiday in California in 1995, where the activist did the majority of his work. 

 

A column in the Orion from 2001 states that was the first year the school observed the holiday.

 

There is also a message about the 2002-2003 academic calendar from then Chico State president Manuel Esteban. It covers the strategic timing of St. Patrick’s and spring break to reduce “excessive student use of alcohol and the community disruption,” and the addition of the Cesar Chavez holiday. 

 

The goal of quieting St. Patrick’s Day celebrations could be a factor in the rise of the Chavez Party in Chico. To make up for the lost March holiday, it is theorized that students used Chavez Day as a sort of replacement.

 

In an issue of The Orion from 2004, an article about Chico’s party reputation states, “During the past two years, Cesar Chavez Day has become a newer holiday for students. Lt. John Rucker told The Orion earlier this month that the holiday is not an event now, but he said Chico police will increase staffing if it gets too large in the future.”

 

The town and university had historically been making successful efforts to quell partying on big name holidays like Halloween. The tighter enforcement on those days may have contributed to celebrating on less traditionally festive occasions, like Chavez.

 

An Orion editorial from 2005 stated, “Labor Day, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day have steadily declined as party holidays over the last few years as the city and police have cracked down … The test of how much students have learned will come next week with what some are calling the new party day: Cesar Chavez Day.”

 

It’s reasonable to assert that the end of Pioneer Days in 1987, spring break covering St. Patrick’s Day and generally tighter restrictions on widely celebrated holidays led students to celebrate on Chavez Day instead. 

 

The operations manager at the Chico History Museum, Olivia Dion, shared her experience with the holiday.

 

“Growing up in Chico, Halloween and St. Patrick’s were crazier, Chavez less so. Partying has been going down overall,” Dion said.

 

A poorly-aged video from The Orion in 2011 shows how the celebration of Chavez continued to ramp up to what it is today.

 

There is also the wildcat in the room. Chico State is well known for its long and storied relationship with partying. Just one day off from class is enough for a party to start in this “Playboy”-famous college town. 

 

“It’s a day off. They’re going to take that opportunity to drink” Dion, who graduated from Chico State in 2021, said.

 

It may be as simple as that. 

 

At a “party school” like ours, students will take any opportunity to throw a party and get drunk. Take away Pioneer Days, crack down on St. Patrick’s and Halloween and they still can’t stop the party. 

 

It may not be in the best taste, or be an at-all appropriate way to honor Cesar Chavez’s work, but partying on Chavez Day certainly is classic Chico behavior. 

Callum Standish can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Callum Standish, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Callum Standish is a third year journalism and news major from Castro Valley, California. Standish is in his second semester on The Orion and now serves as the arts and entertainment editor. He has broad interests in cars, music and the environment. Standish enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of Chico on his bicycle and wasting time with friends. His goal is to get everyone involved in the community on-and-off campus. 

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