In this guest post, Sara Burnett, education associate at the American Immigration Council, presents strategies and resources to enrich the classroom with the legacy of César Chávez. This blog post was originally posted at the American Immigration Council’s Teach Immigration blog.
“When the man who feeds the world by toiling in the field is himself deprived of the basic rights of feeding and caring for his own family, the whole community of man is sick.” — César Chávez
César Chávez was a Mexican-American labor activist and civil rights leader who fought tirelessly throughout his life to improve the working conditions of migrant farm workers. A man of great courage, he championed nonviolent protest, using boycotts, strikes, and fasting as a way to create sweeping social change. Importantly, his work led him to found the United Farm Workers union (UFW).
His remarkable achievements towards social justice and human rights serve as an excellent example to young people of how vital their voices are in bringing about change and championing causes that are as relevant today as they were in his day.
One group of middle school students in Fellsmere, FL has done just that by writing and producing a short news broadcast “The Hands That Feed Us: A Migrant Farm Workers Service Project,” highlighting the unfair labor practices and strenuous conditions of migrant farmworkers who pick oranges in their community. Their teachers are winners of the American Immigration Council’s 2014 community grants program which helped to fund this service-learning opportunity. Their project culminates with a school-wide donation drive for materials sorely needed for migrant farmworkers.
Inspired to enrich your classroom with the legacy of César Chávez?
Start with a lesson
In this immigration lesson plan, students will understand how César Chávez’s adolescence as a migrant farm worker influenced his later achievements. First, students will analyze how an artist and biographer have interpreted Chávez’s legacy. Then by reading excerpts from Chávez’s autobiography, students will draw connections between how his early years shaped his later beliefs and achievements around organized labor, social justice, and humane treatment of individuals. Once students have read and critically thought about these connections, they will write a response supported with evidence from the text to answer the investigative question on the impact of Chávez’s early years and development. This Common-Core aligned lesson includes extensions and adaptations for ELL students and readers at multiple levels.
Appropriate for younger students, but inspirational for all ages, picture books have a unique capacity to captivate and educate. The following books all have linked teacher’s guides.
Poems to Dream Together/Poemas para Soñar Juntos by Francisco Alarcón pays tribute to those who toil in the fields, and to César Chávez. This is an excellent bilingual book to use in your celebration of National Poetry Month in April.
Amelia’s Road by Linda Jacobs Altman explores the daily life of migrant farm working in California’s Central Valley from a child’s perspective. According to the publisher, Lee and Low Books, “it is an inspirational tale about the importance of home.”
First Day in Grapes by L. King Perez follows Chico and his family traveling farm to farm across California where every September they pick grapes and Chico enters a different school. But third grade year is different and Chico begins to find his own voice against the bullies at his school
Calling the Doves / El Canto de las Palomas by Juan Herrera is the poet’s account of his own childhood as a migrant farmworker. Beautifully illustrated and composed in Spanish and English, Herrera describes the simple joys he misses from his native Mexico as well as detailing his personal journey in becoming a writer.
A brief video Mini-Bio: César Chávez sets the foundation for older students to learn about the major achievements of Chávez’s life.
Initiate a community service project
Chávez was explicit about the need to serve one’s community. As a class, identify a need in your community and then brainstorm ways that students can make a difference from running a donation drive to decorating school walls in order to welcome all students and families. Take inspiration from the students in Fellsmere, FL for a more intensive project and let us know about it and apply for our community grants.
Extend learning into the present state of migrant farm workers
Read How Inaction on Immigration Impacts the Agricultural Economy (American Immigration Council) and What happens when more than half of migrant workers are undocumented? (Michigan Radio) Ask students: What is the status of migrant labor today in the U.S.? How much has changed and stayed the same since Chávez’s early childhood?
Read Interview with a Crab Picker (Public Welfare Foundation) and explore what it is like to apply for U.S. jobs while residing in the home country. Pair this reading with the short film about a Public Welfare Foundation grantee: Centro De Los Derechos Del Migrante, Inc. available on their website. Ask students: How do these recent interviews and stories compare and contrast with the conditions facing Chávez and his family? How are some individuals in home countries benefitting from sending migrant workers to the U.S.?
Have more ideas on teaching César Chávez and his legacy with students? We’d love to hear them. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow us on twitter @ThnkImmigration.
Sara Burnett is the education associate at the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to honoring our nation’s immigrant past and shaping our immigrant future. She was a former public high school English teacher in Washington D.C. and Vermont. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she taught a service-learning and creative writing with undergraduates and recently immigrated high school students. Additionally, she holds a MA in English Literature from the University of Vermont, and a BA in English and Economics from Boston College.