On Monday, Fernando Chavez, the eldest son of the late civil rights icon, Cesar Chavez, was the honored guest at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in Los Angeles for a mural unveiling paying tribute to his father.
The mural is the collective work of famed Mexican-American artist Simon Silva and several Cesar Chavez Elementary parents who all came together in grief when popular teacher José Guajardo, who taught at the school for numerous years, passed away. Together they decided to celebrate his life through art — one of his life’s passions.
“It’s very touching, because this was done by very young students — third and fourth graders — and they put their heart and energy into it, and the name of the school is Cesar Chavez so it was very moving,” says Chavez.
The school’s principal, Norma Velasco-Aceves, who met Cesar Chavez while in college, was also proud of the mural.
“For me, it has a lot of meaning because just meeting his son, Fernando, allows for [the legacy] to continue,” she told Annenberg TV News.
Chavez, an immigration rights attorney for more than 30 years who also sits on the Board of Directors of the school after-school program, After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles, says his father taught him the importance of being a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves as well as the importance of education, and he delivered that message to the students at the unveiling.
“I was telling the children when I was a young boy — probably 13 or 14 — my father had never given me a gift before, but he gave me a book, and I was bewildered,” recalls Chavez. “I opened it up, and I tried to read the first few pages, and I was lost. It wasn’t until college that I could read it — it was ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ Now I understand how important education was to him.”
He also remembers his father telling him and his other eight brothers and sisters, “Once you’re educated, nobody can take that away from you.”
Chavez says he was honored to speak at the school because he doesn’t feel there are a lot of Latino role models for children.
“I think this is a very good opportunity for them to learn about who Cesar Chavez was and what he represented not only the Latino community but to society in general,” he says.
He further explains that growing up around the civil rights leader was a contributing factor for him getting into immigration law.
“I always learned you have to help people who can’t help themselves or speak for themselves — so it was a natural progression,” says Chavez. “Our firm has a big segment on immigration law. That’s important because you are dealing with individuals who have been put aside and fearful of someone turning them in. They are paid low wages, but they live in constant fear of immigration services. I think it’s time that society realizes we need immigration reform that will legalize millions and millions of people…we think it’s going to happen — it needs to happen — and we need to make sure that things are done appropriately.”