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Sac State recognizes farmworkers with tree plantings, tributes to Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta

Members of the campus community, including President Robert S. Nelsen, center, are joined by Andres Chavez in honoring labor and civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta on March 29. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz)

More than two years ago, Sacramento State planted the seeds for living tributes to labor and civil rights leaders Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.  

On Tuesday, March 29, after many delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project came to fruition.

Chavez’s grandson, Andres Chavez, participated in a ceremony to unveil tree plantings in honor of his late grandfather and Huerta, as Sac State marked National Farmworker Awareness Week, March 25-31, ending on Cesar Chavez’s birthday, a federal commemorative holiday. Sac State is closed that day.

Andres Chavez
Andres Chavez came to Sac State to honor his grandfather and to mark National Farmworker Awareness Week. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz)

“I encourage you to look back on the lives of Cesar and Dolores, and use them as inspiration to keep moving forward,” Andres Chavez told students and others gathered in the early afternoon near River Front Center, where the Chavez memorial has been installed. The center houses programs that serve students from migrant backgrounds.

A pine tree and plaque in tribute to Huerta, who continues to be a voice for migrant workers and other underserved people, are just a few steps away.

Andres Chavez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from California State University, Bakersfield, in 2016, worked briefly at Sac State before becoming director of Strategic Initiatives at the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

He urged students to be agents for change and good, through work in such areas as education, advocacy, and community development.

“Find your passion, and it will be incredible what you do for yourself and your communities,” Chavez said.

Later, in the University Union Ballroom, Chavez answered questions about his grandfather’s work and legacy during a public Q&A session.  

Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later become the United Farm Workers of America. He championed efforts to peacefully improve treatment of migrant farmworkers and secure better pay and working conditions.  

The tree and plants for Chavez’s memorial were carefully chosen, said Nicole McDavid, garden specialist at Sac State. The tree is a flowering cherry, and the garden includes “pollinator friendly” plants including lupine and lavender, as well as herbs such as dill and sage.

“Some of them provide nectar, and some provide pollen,” McDavid said. “It is significant, because without bees and without our farmworkers, we wouldn’t have food in our grocery stores.”

Lilia Contreras, interim coordinator of the University’s College Assistance Migrant Program, said the Chavez memorial “has been a dream in the making” since before the pandemic sent everyone home to work and study in March 2020.

Contreras said now she can look through River Front’s windows and see the garden and tree, which stand as powerful symbols of “how far we have come, and how far we still have to go” to protect society’s most vulnerable people.

Chavez marker
This marker at Sac State is part of a monument to Cesar Chavez, whose efforts led to significant improvements in living and working conditions for farmworkers throughout the country. (Sacramento State/Bibiana Ortiz)

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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