Where to celebrate César Chávez Day in Austin

Cesar Chavez on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol on Labor Day 1966. Photo contributed by Phil Oakley

Civil rights activist César Chávez was no stranger to Austin. In 1966, he arrived to lend his support to agricultural workers who marched from the Rio Grande Valley to the Texas Capitol seeking a pay raise from about 40 to 60 cents an hour to $1.25.

Chávez met the marchers, who stayed at St. Edward’s University overnight, at the campus and joined them for what became a historic march — one that’s often credited with giving rise to the state’s Chicano movement.

On Chávez’ birthday March 31, celebrations across the country will honor his life and legacy. In Austin, don’t miss a free screening of the critically-acclaimed documentary “Dolores” at 7 p.m. March 29 at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

The documentary, directed by Peter Bratt, tells the story of Dolores Huerta, whom the filmmaker describes as “among the most important yet least-known activists in American history.” Huerta co-founded the first farmworkers union with Chávez — all while raising her 11 children.

Stick around after the film for what’s sure to be an insightful conversation with some of Austin’s prominent community leaders including Lilia Rosas, caretaker of Resistencia Bookstore, and award-winning poet Ire’ne Lara Silva.

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On March 31, Austinites can also join the annual “Sí Se Puede” family-friendly march, which will feature speakers, music and dancers. This year’s theme centers around helping renters and homeowners of color remain in their homes as well as the continued fight for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to stay in the country.

Marchers will assemble at 10 a.m. at Terrazas library on 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St. and head to the A.B. Cantu/Pan American Recreation Center, where the community will gather from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. For more information, call march organizers People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources at 512-401-3311.

‘Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights’ film screens March 31

Austinites participated in a Chicano March in 1977, and community leader Hortensia Palomares contributed this photograph, which is featured in KLRU's upcoming documentary highlighting the Chicano movement in Austin. Photo contributed by KLRU-TV, Austin PBS
Austinites participated in a Chicano March in 1977, and community leader Hortensia Palomares contributed this photograph, which is featured in KLRU’s upcoming documentary highlighting the Chicano movement in Austin. Photo courtesy of KLRU-TV, Austin PBS

It opened their eyes to injustices. It spurred some of them into public service careers. And it infused them all with cultural pride.

When the Chicano Civil Rights Movement swept across the country in the 1960s and 1970s, Austin’s Mexican-American community united to fight for quality education, political representation and a respect for their rich culture.

It was a time when Austinites like Margaret Gómez, who later became Travis County’s first Latina elected official, questioned, “What’s really going on here?”

The latest installment of KLRU-TV’s Austin Revealed series, an oral history project launched in 2014 that aims to encourage discussion about the city’s future, focuses on the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in Austin and weaves together the compelling stories of trailblazing Austinites, like Gómez, who were part of an era that helped shape today’s Austin.

“Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights” airs on KLRU-TV on March 31 at 7:30 p.m. The PBS affiliate also partnered with the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center to host a special screening and discussion of the documentary on March 31 as part of the center’s César Chávez celebrations. Doors for the screening open at 6:30 p.m. and the film starts at 7 p.m. An RSVP on klru.org is required for the free event, where co-producers Joe Rocha and Eve Tarlo will be present.

Maria Elena Martinez, a former chair of Raza Unida Party and former educator, is featured in the upcoming KLRU documentary "Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights."
Maria Elena Martinez, a former chair of Raza Unida Party and former educator, is featured in the upcoming KLRU documentary “Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights.” Photo courtesy of KLRU-TV, Austin PBS

During research for a previous “Austin Revealed” installment highlighting notable African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, producers uncovered many rich stories about the Chicano community struggles of that time. “We knew we wanted to come back to the Chicano story,” says Maury Sullivan, KLRU-TV’s senior Vice President for Community Engagement.

The first-person accounts of more than 20 Austinites, including former Brown Beret activist Susana Almanza and former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, help piece together a holistic history that sheds light on the movement’s sacrifices, failures and achievements.

Austinites recalled being disciplined in schools for speaking Spanish and the struggles of being a Mexican-American local business owner. The documentary highlights Austinites who helped shape politics, art, education and activism. “(During the Chicano Movement) there was a lot of togetherness and a lot of energy to work for that effort,” Gómez says in the film.

From police brutality to education reform, the documentary remains timely, says co-producer Rocha. “There are some laughs, but also some tears and anger,” Tarlo adds.

New Austinites, Rocha says, will also see why we now have parks and streets named after some of these community leaders. “There’s a stamp in Austin left by these folks,” he says. Many of the featured Austinites remain active community leaders. “They’re inspiring and they’re still fighting,” Tarlo says.

Austin honors César Chávez legacy

Valentino Mauricio/For American-Statesman
Valentino Mauricio/For American-Statesman

While labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez advocated for farm worker rights, he also arrived in Austin in 1971 to lend his support to the local upholsterers union, which launched a strike against the Economy Furniture Co. and gained national attention. The workers sought better pay and benefits as well as the right to bargain collectively. And when Chávez spoke at a local march and rally, thousands came to listen.

March 31 marks César Chávez’s birthday, and across the country he’ll be honored with everything from marches to film screenings.

In Austin, community members are invited to gather on March 26 for the annual “Sí­ Se Puede” March at Terrazas Library, 1105 E. Cesar Chavez St. Participants will assemble at 10 a.m. and march from the library to the Mariposa Centro Cultural at 4926 E. Cesar Chavez St., where there will be music, speakers and entertainment.

At the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center there will be a special screening and discussion of KLRU-TV’s documentary “Austin Revealed: Chicano Civil Rights” on March 31. Doors for the screening open at 6:30 p.m. and the film starts at 7 p.m. An RSVP on klru.org is required for the free event, where co-producers Joe Rocha and Eve Tarlo will be present.

The MACC will continue César Chávez celebrations with a screening of the documentary “Cesar Chavez: The Fight in the Fields” at 9 p.m. on March 31. For more details visit austintexas.gov/esbmacc.