Late on Tuesday, March 31, a host of UCSB student activists and campus organizations gathered for a candlelight vigil to acknowledge Cesar Ch¡vez Day and protest what they perceive as improper recognition of the holiday by the University of California system. Among the 30-40 attendees were members of the NAACP, United Farm Workers, UCSB’s Associated Students government group, and other student organizations.
In the state of California, March 31 is recognized as Cesar Ch¡vez Day, an official holiday for which a number of public schools close. This year, the UC administration chose to commemorate the holiday on a Friday during Spring Break. At Tuesday’s vigil, participants demanded that the UC system recognize the holiday on its actual day in order for students and faculty to be able to gather in Ch¡vez’s honor.
Protestors held lit candles and joined in a circle around a banner which read: “We demand UCSB to properly honor the Cesar E. Ch¡vez holiday, March 31st, not during Spring Break.” A number of activists spoke out against the UC policy on the holiday and against the wider issue of social and economic injustice.
“This is not only about celebrating Cesar Ch¡vez,” one UCSB student said. “It’s a movement. It’s about justice and equal opportunity. It’s not only about the Chicano community but also about people and it’s about workers. You know, Ch¡vez was an advocate for justice, and this is about justice.” Another quoted Ch¡vezhimself: “Cesar Ch¡vez said to never discount anyone,” he said. “Not only are we celebrating his memory but we’re continuing his movement by uniting together.”
For students Madelin Arroyo and Alma Soriano, the vigil hit particularly close to home. Both participated in walkouts during high school for the same reason they attended the vigil Tuesday: to demand that the school system recognize Cesar Ch¡vez Day. The walkouts generated a positive outcome. This year, the Los Angeles Union School District passed a resolution to cancel classes on March 31, and to give faculty members a paid holiday. “We walked out to make sure our school honored Cesar Ch¡vez along with other American heroes,” Soriano said. “He’s an American hero and we want him to be acknowledged as one. And that’s what we’re pushing for here.”
The vigil ended with two minutes of silence, followed by a clapping exercise staged by UCSB student Paul Monge to commemorate the way Mexican and Filipino workers once communicated to overcome rigid language barriers. “The speeding of the clap symbolizes the speeding of the labor movement,” Monge said. “It also symbolizes the pace of our hearts. We are a unit, we are collective, we rise together and we fall together.” At the end of the vigil, attendees extinguished their candles and were invited to sign a petition of protest.
A representative of UCSB did not return a call asking for a comment on this matter.