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Spring break takes UC Berkeley students on exploration of migrant labor, Cesar Chavez
22 March 2001

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

As thousands of students head to beaches and resort towns for spring break revelry, two dozen civic-minded University of California, Berkeley, students will pick asparagus and paint migrants' homes in Stockton and distribute health-related flyers in Delano, home of the United Farm Workers.

The trips mark UC Berkeley's first official, independent foray into what's called "alternative spring break." The national movement is devoted to blending education and community service during the traditional week off from university classes each spring.

Several UC Berkeley students said they joined the project because they are curious to learn more about their fathers' experiences as migrant workers. Others said they want to learn more about UFW founder Cesar Chavez and the history of the labor organization, according to Alexis Buchnam, the AmeriCorps program coordinator at UC Berkeley's Cal Corps Public Service Center.

"I have read about the (migrant) movement and Cesar Chavez and have even heard lectures about him; however, I feel that working with farm workers and doing service in their area will teach me to appreciate their role in my life more," said Mayra Alvarez, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in social welfare and Chicano studies at UC Berkeley. "I hardly ever stop to recognize the work people have to do to get the fruit I so carelessly eat every day."

Students will work in Stockton from Monday through Friday, March 26-30, staying at a Rural AmeriCorps staff member's home at night. They will spend two days painting interiors at a camp and a day working alongside migrant workers, picking asparagus. Volunteers also will have dinner with the migrants with whom they will spend the long day in the fields.

Meanwhile, the Delano crew will sleep at a UFW retirement home for Filipino migrant workers and tour that community to learn the history of the UFW and assist with water quality surveys there.

Upon their return to UC Berkeley, each group of university students will make presentations about Cesar Chavez in East Bay K-12 public schools.

The groups will participate in celebrations for the March 31 state holiday commemorating Cesar Chavez, the founder of the UFW. The Delano group will remain in the Central Valley for the Cesar Chavez programs on Saturday, while the Stockton contingent will return to the Bay Area for an event in San Francisco.

Chavez was a pioneer in California migrant labor who secured the first union contracts for workers that required rest breaks, clean drinking water, protective clothing to safeguard workers from dangerous pesticides, facilities for washing hands, and health benefits. Chavez died in 1993.

Alvarez said Cesar Chavez Day has a personal significance for her, because her grandfather participated in the Bracero Program instituted by the U.S. and Mexican governments in 1942. Under the plan, 4 million Mexican migrant workers came to work in United States farm fields. Alvarez said her father also worked in the fields of California's Imperial Valley in the 1960s.

"It is important to give Cesar Chavez the recognition he deserves; he not only motivated large numbers of people in non-violent demonstrations, he was able to start an educational process that is continually growing," she said.

Alternative spring break and its program oriented toward Cesar Chavez has come to UC Berkeley thanks to a $16,000 grant from California's 25-member Commission on Improvement of Life
Through Service. It was awarded to the Cal Corps Public Service Center and the Accord For Youth AmeriCorps Collaborative of the Alameda County Volunteer Center. Cal Corps Public Service Center is a program partner and a member of the collaborative. It employs full-time UC Berkeley students to enhance the educational experiences of underserved youth in Alameda County.

The UFW and Rural AmeriCorps are the sponsors overseeing the program in the valley.

After spring break, participants each will donate four hours of labor to educate K-12 youth and UC Berkeley about the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez by working with the Alameda County Food Bank and other non-profit agencies.