César Chávez speech part of UTEP exhibit

Laura L. Acosta


César Chávez once said his motivation for rallying against an unjust farm labor system grew from his own “experience with racism, with hope, with the desire to be treated fairly and to see my people treated as human beings” and not as property.

Chávez’s fiery speech delivered to the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in 1984 gives voice to the traveling exhibit, In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César Chávez, on display at UTEP’s Centennial Museum through Dec. 3.

Organized by Humanities Texas, the exhibit documents the struggles and achievements of the civil rights leader through 38 photographs and excerpts from his speeches, interviews and authoritative writings.

In His Own Words chronicles Chávez’s life from his birth in Yuma, Ariz., on March 31, 1927, his hardships as a migrant farmworker, his role as an activist and founder of the United Farm Workers, to his untimely death on April 23, 1993.

“I’m very pleased with the exhibit, particularly that it has an orientation, not what people thought about César but his own narrative based in a chronological fashion and his own interpretation as he goes through various stages of his life,” said Dennis Bixler-Marquez, head of UTEP’s Chicano Studies Program, who met Chávez in the mid-1970s during the Safeway supermarket boycotts in the San Francisco Bay area.

Photographs of Chávez as an infant, with his siblings, and with Robert F. Kennedy are just a few of the images that line the walls of the museum’s first floor gallery. Under the headings, A Formative Experience, An Organizer Awakes, and

An Activist Matures, visitors are taken on a journey of Chávez’s life. The display falls in line with the Centennial’s mission to work closely on the connection that people have to the environment, specifically the Chihuahuan desert, said Bill Wood, museum director.

“There’s no closer connection to nature in your world around you than your food,” Wood said. “César Chávez was working at a point that’s really important to understanding our relationship to the environment to better the lives of working people that bring food to our table.”

Former Centennial director Marshall Carter-Tripp coordinated with Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, before her retirement last October to bring the exhibit to the museum.

“Humanities Texas does great work, and everybody talks about the access and excellence model, and it’s about working with excellent people as well. It’s a good opportunity to do that,” Wood said.

Eighteen years after Chávez’s death, his words continue to make an impact.  Meili Kan, a visitor from Miami, had never heard about Chávez until she toured the Centennial’s exhibit, where she was inspired by the activist’s legacy.

“To see how one mind can set so many things moving at the same time, bring people together and empower people in such ways, it’s very amazing,” Kan said.

In His Own Words is made possible by a We the People grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Centennial Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is free. Information: 915-747-5565.



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