I recently accepted a job as bilingual program associate on the Health and Safety Team at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs in Washington DC. Their (or should I say our) mission is to “improve the quality of life for migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families by providing advocacy for the member organizations that serve them”– which they’ve been doing since 1971. The Health & Safety Team specifically is funded by EPA and OSHA and has two main programs: one that focuses on pesticide safety, and on on heat stroke prevention. It’s pretty much exactly what I want to do: work with Latino immigrants, write articles, blog, help write prevention programs and travel to farm sites.
I will actually be traveling to California next week for a conference/training with AFOP and Americorps (who help do the prevention programs on site). This is where I am going:
This is the National Chavez Center in Tehachapi, California. La Paz is where Cesar “lived and labored during his last quarter century. It was his spiritual harbor removed from often bitter struggles in agricultural valleys and big cities. Here he worked, strategized, and planned.” This whole thing made me think of the graduation speech I prepared for the Latino graduation, La celebracion Latina… I did evoke the spirit of Chavez…I won’t bore you with the whole speech but let me show you an excerpt:
We all know the slogan that was chanted all across this country, and even the world, the slogan that invited the United States back as a respectable member of the world community, the slogan that changed the face of this country, and hopefully the future of this country as well. That slogan was YES WE CAN.
But, Obama and his staff of clever speechwriters didn’t come up with that line. No, it was Latino people. More specifically it was a Latina woman. Like every piece of lettuce you eat in your salad, or tomato you put on your burger, and in fact every food you eat at any restaurant, even here in Ann Arbor, Latinos touched it first.
Chavez continued to organize proving everyone wrong that indeed it could be done until he got to ARIZONA in the 1972. Arizona had just passed a bill that would outlaw strikes and boycotts of farm workers during harvest time. Chavez and the Union went to Arizona to get the governor to veto that bill. The bill passed anyway and Chavez commenced a fast.
Larger crowds gathered around him every day during his fast to be in the presence of a man who dared to stand up against the state government…Cesar was been taken to the hospital because of the effects of the fast. But guess what, he did not stop.
When he became weaker, Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers said to him: it CAN be done, SI SE PUEDE. And that became the slogan for the United Farm Workers and many millions of other disenfranchised people around the world. It was about remembering that indeed, it can be done, even in your weakest moment.
So this famous slogan went from SI SE PUEDE, or It can be done in the 70s to YES WE CAN in 2004 when Obama was running for Senate in Illinois. But that is not enough for me. This were the commitment I need from you comes in. I don’t want you to say yes we can, or si se puede, I want you to say YES WE WILL.
You have the tools now, now that you have educated yourself, now that you have exposed yourself to so many different perspectives, now that you have learned about work ethic, endurance and hard work. You have learned about friendship, and love, and heartbreak, you have learned about staying up all night to finish a paper, and staying up all night to be with people you care about. You have learned how to ask questions, how to stand up for yourself, and how to take leadership and responsibility.
And now, there is no going back.
You must always, always, always stand up for those who have less than you and those who are suffering. You have the responsibility to stand up for what is right because in the famous words of Martin Luther Kind, Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE.
Be an idealist, be a dreamer, if you see someone being treated unfairly: speak up, if you see sexist of homophobic behavior: say something, if you see racism or discrimination (both covert and overt) don’t stay quiet! This is the commitment I want from you. YOU WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Whatever field you chose to go into, remember this, you can make a difference. Si Se Puede!
TO close I want to use the words of Cesar Chaves who said: “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. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
You have become educated, and hopefully you are full of pride and free of fears. And when you walk out of those doors behind you after the ceremony, you will be walking towards our future. Take it. Take that future and make it a better place.
So I guess it’s my turn now- after a few months delay that is- I will go and actually put my money where my mouth is. Wish me luck! Also… come visit! 🙂