William & Mary’s Center for Student Diversity will celebrate the university’s Latinx Heritage Month with a photo exhibition and two events commemorating the life of late labor leader Cesar Chavez.
Chavez, who died 30 years ago, was a civil rights icon who used non-violent activism to organize farm workers seeking better working conditions. His efforts led to the formation of the United Farm Workers union to address problems facing farm workers, the Latinx population, working families and other marginalized communities.
Democracy, one of the pillars of W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan, was at the heart of Chavez’s efforts. Steve Prince, director of engagement and distinguished artist in residence at the Muscarelle Museum of Art, and Kevin Gilliam, facilities and exhibitions manager at the Muscarelle, will curate the exhibition.
“The Center for Student Diversity is looking forward to hosting a photographic exhibit of the life of Cesar Chavez, a civil rights giant,” said Kimberly Weatherly, assistant dean and director of the Center for Student Diversity. “It is our intent to feature important historical figures during the cultural and identity national celebration months. We are eager to work with the Muscarelle and faculty on this project.
“We have been working with the Cesar Chavez Foundation in California for six months and are excited to see the plans come to fruition as part of our William & Mary Latinx Heritage Month celebration Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. Our Latinx students, faculty and staff continue to advance and enrich our William & Mary community, and Latinx Heritage Month allows us to recognize their achievements and contributions to not only our campus community but our national story.”
“Cesar Chavez: Legacy of a Leader,” an exhibition of 30 black and white photographs from the National Chavez Center archives showing an overview of Chavez’s life and work, will be displayed in the Slice and upper hallways of the Sadler Center from Sept. 5 through Oct. 30. A grand opening on Sept. 22 and panel discussion on Oct. 5 are scheduled. The exhibition and events are free and open to the public.
“Partnerships like this are an opportunity for us to re-introduce Cesar Chavez to modern audiences and in modern contexts,” said Andres Chavez, executive director of the National Chavez Center and Cesar Chavez’s grandson. “The legacy of Cesar is widespread and nuanced, and we are excited to share it with students and scholars across the U.S. as we lead up to the centennial of my grandfather’s birth in 2027.”
The chronological photo exhibit includes an overview of the life and work of Cesar Chavez from early life on an Arizona homestead to his efforts to unite farm workers through the lens of his community organizing and the labor strikes, marches and boycotts associated with the 1965 Delano, California, grape strike.
During this strife-filled period, the UFW was engaged in a bitter battle against the Delano area grape growers and their refusal to allow basic dignity in the working and living conditions of farm workers. The exhibit includes historic records from the time period and iconic images of the labor leader’s fasts and personal sacrifice for the movement.
The grand opening on Sept. 22 will take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Slice. Arturo Rodriguez, president emeritus of the UFW who was its president for 25 years after Cesar Chavez’s death, will deliver the keynote speech followed by a Q&A. Also that day, Eric Romero, director of archives at the National Chavez Center, and Prince will conduct a community flag-making event with students at Lafayette High School.
On Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. in Sadler Center Commonwealth Auditorium, a panel conversation and Q&A will take place featuring Andres Chavez, Romero and Marc Grossman, UFW historian who served as Cesar Chavez’s press aide and speechwriter.
The National Chavez Center, a non-profit support corporation of the foundation, preserves and shares his legacy through community outreach such as the flag-making workshop. On the evenings prior to the work of boycotts, strikes and marches, members and supporters of the UFW would gather in community spaces to design and produce picket signs, banners and flags for the movement.
“This show is a great opportunity for us to strengthen our outreach programs and begin sharing our organizational archives to find meaningful historical documents that showcase the legacy of Cesar Chavez,” Romero said.
Jennifer L. Williams, Communications Specialist