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María Elena Durazo Headshot

For Cesar Chavez Day, Can Pomona College Give Peace a Chance? Si, Se puede!

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It would be Cesar Chavez's 85th birthday. Every year, his holiday is an opportunity for us to reflect on his legacy. But Cesar's legacy is not just the thousands of lives he helped change, it's also values that he stood for, and reminds us of our obligation to continue to champion those values wherever they are threatened, even today. We honor Cesar's legacy every day we fight for justice for workers, when we march with them for change. That is why I will spend this Cesar Chavez Day at Pomona College, standing side by side with that college's dining hall workers.

Through organizing, strikes, and boycotts with the United Farm Workers, men and women stepped out of the shadows and into the moral reckoning of an entire nation. The fact that the food we eat was harvested with suffering, transformed how Americans think about food. The movement work of the '60s and '70s continues to resound today in fields, supermarkets, and kitchens, as well as on the tables of millions of Americans.

Farm workers made gains through bravery, courage and solidarity. Like generations of immigrant workers who came before, the farm workers laid claim to the American Dream by founding a union of their own, to secure in a contract, fair wages, safe working conditions, and respect for their very humanity. And like those previous generations of workers who organized, the farm workers' status as immigrants to this country was a vulnerability that growers used to intimidate, terrorize and divide them, just as textile mill owners had done the same to the men, women and children from Italy and Eastern Europe who they once relied on to be docile, silent and unwilling to protest.

It is terrible that in a nation composed of immigrants that employers so readily resort to immigration status as a weapon of fear and division. It is a deplorable practice that continues today. At Pomona College, in the midst of a union organizing drive by the college's dining hall workers, the college administration decided to conduct an audit of work authorization papers for campus workers. Then the college fired 16 dining hall workers. It did not matter that the workers had spent years - in some cases, decades, as part of the Pomona College community. It did not matter that these workers had served the students and faculty faithfully.

The fight for a union at Pomona's dining hall continues, and unfortunately, so does the Pomona Administration's opposition.

Since the firings, workers have joined with students and faculty to protest the administration's actions turning the cafeteria and the campus into battleground. In response, the Pomona community plans to march on Friday, as a celebration of Cesar Chavez Day, and to share a meal together, in order to recognize the dining hall workers, and to call on the College to give peace a chance, by declaring neutrality on the question of unionization. It is a fitting nod to Cesar's memory, to bring together so many people, from so many different backgrounds, to break bread together and ask for something very, very simple - freedom from fear.

Can Pomona College give peace a chance? Sí, se puede.