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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Chavez's Grandson Speaks on Holiday's Meaning

August 23, 2000

OXNARD — Four days after Cesar Chavez's birthday became a state holiday, his grandson told hundreds of migrant workers' children at El Rio Elementary School Tuesday what the holiday means.

Nineteen--year-old Cesar Chavez said that every year on March 31, students throughout California will honor his grandfather by learning about Chavez's struggles to improve wages and working conditions for farm laborers. He praised the law for also encouraging students to volunteer in their communities on that day.

"This is going to help his legacy live on and will help people know what he stood for," Chavez said.

Many of the students, enrolled in a summer school program for children of seasonal farm laborers, said they are excited about the new holiday because their own parents earn their livings in strawberry and lettuce fields.

"We want to celebrate Cesar Chavez's birthday because he helped everyone and he helped some of our parents," said 11-year-old Leti Lopez.

Leti and her classmates know that Cesar Chavez got rid of the short-handled hoe that caused disabling back problems among farm workers. And they know he lived in Oxnard, just as they do.

"He changed everything, so the farm workers wouldn't be tired and their backs wouldn't hurt," said Arthur Gonzalez, 11, whose father works in Oxnard's strawberry fields.

Chavez was invited to El Rio by Denis O'Leary, president of the Ventura County chapter of the California Assn. for Bilingual Education. O'Leary teaches at El Rio Elementary and volunteers with the United Farm Workers union, which Chavez helped found in 1962.

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