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Grand Valley University celebrates Cesar Chavez Day with community events

Cesar Chavez
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Grand Valley University celebrates Cesar Chavez Day

"Cesar Chavez is the complete O.G. farmworker advocate," Molly Spaack, a staff attorney with Migrant Legal Aid said.

In honor of Cesar Chavez Day, Grand Valley State University's (GVSU) Office of Multicultural Affairs and Latino Student Union have collaborated to host two local non-profit organizations for a panel discussion on migrant farm workers rights and how students can get involved.

Chavez was a Mexican-American laborer and civil rights activist who dedicated his time to advocating for farm workers and fighting to improve their working and living conditions by making contracts with employers and fighting for policy change. He worked with different organizations to register new voters and fight racial and economic discrimination, eventually founding the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in Delano, California.

Representatives from Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan and Migrant Legal Aid will be sitting on the panel. Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan provides legal services to indigent immigrant, migrant, and seasonal farmworkers and their dependents throughout Michigan. Migrant Legal Aid, another non-profit legal services provider, takes on cases involving the overuse of pesticides, illegal searches and seizures, unfit housing, lack of health care access and late or non-payment of wages along with providing education and outreach programs.

The event takes place on Wednesday, March 30 from 7-9 p.m. in the Chamberlain multi-purpose room in Niemeyer Living & Learning Center.

Molly Spaak is one of the staff attorneys at Migrant Legal Aid who will speak at the event. She said the organizations work stemming back to 1973 wouldn't have been possible without the bravery of Chavez, who among a myriad of accomplishments, fought to improve working conditions and policy change as well as raising a voice against racial and economic discrimination.

“Cesar Chavez is the complete O.G. farmworker advocate...He was born into a migrant farmworker family in California, and they were picking grapes," she said. "...He talks the talk and walks the walk. He was in the fields picking with them, saw what was happening and wanted to change it," she explained.

When asked about how Chavez's work has changed farmworker's lives today, Spaak gratefully acknowledged his historic accomplishments but said there's still more work to be done in 2022.

"“A lot of the issues that were happening back in the 70’s and the 80’s and the 90’s are still happening now… Ripped from the headlines back in the 80’s there was nasty pesticide cases coming from a certain farm up north in Michigan, and I can confirm that there has been pesticide exposure in that exact same area literally last summer," she said.

In addition to the Wednesday event, GVSU President Philomena V. Mantella and Grand Rapids Community College President Bill Pink will be honored Thursday, March 31, by the Committee to Honor César E. Chávez during community events to celebrate the labor and civil rights leader.

Events begin with a social justice march down the newly named Cesar E. Chavez Avenue at 11 a.m.; staging is at the Cook Library Center, 1100 Cesar E. Chavez Ave. SW. The march is free and open to the public.

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