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César Chávez awards honor numerous individuals, but also honors a civil rights pioneer

By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent

Awards galas began two decades ago as a way to honor the memory of César Estrada Chávez, a Latino labor leader who fought for the civil rights and better working conditions, of farmworkers in particular.

Chávez, who died in 1993, is widely viewed as a crusader for nonviolent social change, much like Mahatma Gandhi of India, the Dali Lama of Tibet, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, and Martin Luther King Jr. of the United States.

Rep. Harvey Santana with HLCOM Director Marylou Olivarez Mason

Señor Chávez is revered as a Latino champion who influenced and inspired others to seek social justice and civil rights for the poor and disenfranchised in the U.S. and elsewhere. Many believe the significance and impact of his life transcends any one cause or struggle.

Chávez, a Mexican-American who grew up in Arizona and California, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, which later became known as the United Farm Workers union (UFW) in 1966. Chávez used aggressive, but nonviolent tactics—boycotts, pickets, and strikes—to bring recognition and dignity to the hard, dangerous work done in the fields by farmworkers. Toledo-based FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) adopted many of Mr. Chávez’s methods and philosophies. 

Chávez gained nationwide union support for the farmworkers’ struggle by making it a moral cause during the turbulent 1960s when the fight for civil rights and social justice was at its peak.

Following his death 20 years ago, he became a major historical icon for the Latino communities and organized labor across the nation, symbolizing support for workers and for Latino power based on grass-roots organizing. His favorite slogan “Sí, se puede” (“Yes, we can”) remains a popular refrain today.

Honoring him, numerous events and organizations across the nation now carry his name, such as the 18th Annual César E. Chávez Commemorative Dinner in East Lansing, Michigan (held Sept. 24, 2013) and the César Chávez Humanitarian Awards Gala in Toledo, Ohio (held Oct. 3, 2013). Both honor Chávez on his birthday (March 31) and honor him during Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15).

East Lansing, Sept. 24th

The Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan (HLCOM) hosted the 18th Annual César E. Chávez Commemorative Dinner at MSU’s Kellogg Center in East Lansing. Along with HLCOM, co-hosts for this year’s dinner and recognition ceremony were the Michigan Hispanic Legislative Caucus and the Capital Area César E. Chávez Commission

At the event, Michigan’s outstanding students and community leaders were honored and recognized, including students: Angel Villagomez García, Joséphina López, Jaqueline Alcazar, Sergio García, Carina Rodríguez, José Pérez, Stephanie Vélez, and Daisy Ortiz; and leaders: Margarito “Mike” Colegio, John “Juan” López, Leonard A. Savala III, Tonda Boothy, Theresa “Terry” Beltrán, Carmen Menchaca, Lawrence García, Jesse Venegas, and state rep. Harvey Santana.

Los Mariachis Locos (based in Detroit and Toledo) entertained; Nathan Medina sang the national anthem and also served as a MC; HLCOM Chair Gil Guzmán welcomed the 200-plus in attendance; and Marisa Rivera was the keynote speaker.

“Michigan is home to growing and vibrant Hispanic Latino communities, and those communities are producing world-class leaders for today and tomorrow,” said HLCOM Executive Director Marylou Olivarez Mason. “It is important that we recognize these talented individuals who are working to improve life for their neighbors, their communities, and for all Michigan citizens.”

Toledo, Oct. 3rd

Adelante, Inc. continues Hispanic Heritage Month festivities when the non-profit agency honors two longtime leaders for their commitment to the community. The César Chávez Humanitarian Awards Gala is being held Thursday, Oct. 3, 6-10 p.m., at Forrester’s on the River in East Toledo.

Adelante’s César Chávez Humanitarian Award and its Amigo Award celebrate the accomplishments and commitments of several leaders to service, education, and economic opportunities for Latinos. This year, Adelante will recognize Ms. Margarita De León with the César Chávez Humanitarian Award and Ms. Linda Ewing with the César Chávez Amigo Award. 

“The two honorees this year are amazing women who have committed their lives to servant leadership. They both have become mentors to many people our community and are role models that are calm but passionate,” said Wendy Ziems-Mueller, Adelante executive director.

“What set Margarita and Linda apart from other local leaders is their integrity, loyalty, commitment and drive that gets things done in a diplomatic fashion. Both have extremely successful careers and backgrounds-- and not many can tell either of these ladies ‘no.’”

“The idea of the humanitarian award gala is to recognize outstanding leaders in the Northwest Ohio community who mirror César Chávez’ belief that ‘only by giving our lives do we find life,’” said Ms. Ziems-Mueller. “There are many deserving leaders in our community but every year we select someone that has not only helped the community at large but is also actively involved with Adelante.”

Past Recipients

Past winners of the César Chávez Humanitarian Award include: Dolores Rodríguez of EOPA (2003), the late María Sue Campos (2005), FLOC founder and president Baldemar Velásquez (2006), the late Rudy Lira, a farmworker activist who worked directly with César Chávez and UFW (2007), the late Ruth González de García (2008), former Toledo City Council President Louis Escobar (2010), and Toledo Public Schools Hispanic Outreach Coordinator José Luna (2012). There were no award ceremonies held in 2004, 2009, and 2011.

Ms. De León joins that distinguished group this year. She co-emceed some of the early Chávez awards ceremonies. Her career has spanned more than three decades, including seventeen in the healthcare industry. The rest has been spent in Latino marketing, advertising, and nonprofit development, corporate communications, publishing, fundraising, special events, diversity, and public service.

Ms. De León is a co-convener of the newly recreated Latino Alliance of Northwest Ohio, has served on the Diamante scholarship awards partnership committee since 1990, and spent two terms on the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board. She also co-directed Toledo’s LatinoFest in June from 2001 to 2011.

Adelante’s César Chávez Amigo Award, which recognizes a non-Latino community member or partner who has benefitted the local Latino community, has been given from time-to-time over the past decade. Fifth Third Bank was last year’s recipient for its long-time association with Adelante. The bank is the presenting sponsor of this year’s awards gala.

Ms. Ewing, this year’s Amigo Award recipient, is the owner of Jan-Pro Cleaning and a retired Fifth Third Bank vice president. Ms. Ewing has been actively involved with Adelante for several years, both as a supporter and former board member.  Ms. Ewing was instrumental in organizing financial literacy and education programs for Latino families and other underserved populations in the Toledo metro area to promote family stability and empowerment.

“The organization selected César Chávez to be a reason to celebrate servant leadership and honor community supporters.  It is a huge honor to be included among the list of past recipients,” said Ms. Ziems-Mueller. “It allows Adelante and the Latino community to brag about the impact we make, even though it may appear to be small-scale in the shadows of other local giants.  The awards gala is a great way to celebrate local leaders that are often much quieter in their leadership and impact.”

The César Chávez Humanitarian Awards Gala currently serves as Adelante’s main annual fundraiser. All proceeds go directly to sustain its programs, services, and outreach initiatives. But the non-profit agency also conducts an annual giving campaign and smaller-scale fundraisers throughout the year.

Adelante currently provides educational, health and wellness, youth development and economic empowerment programs and services to Latino individuals and families throughout the region. The nonprofit organization’s executive director stated there is no distinction made as to whether clients are undocumented immigrants or not.

“Adelante is a social services agency with no political agenda.  We serve families in need that reside in NW Ohio and surrounding areas” said Ms. Ziems-Mueller. “We do not turn away anyone in need and pride ourselves in being the premiere Latino Resource Center in our community, helping all clients that come through our doors.”

¡Hasta la Victoria! ¡Si se puede!

Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.


Copyright © 1989 to 2013 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/01/13 19:43:49 -0700.




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