Latinos Shaping a Nation
By Joel Cloud, Celia Guerrero and Matt San Pedro
October 14, 2009
In September 1968, president Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed National
Hispanic Heritage Week. In 1988, National Hispanic Week became
National Hispanic Month, which celebrates people from Central America
to North America to Spain and the Caribbean who have impacted America
and shaped it for the best.
On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Chris Fernandez and Caroline Zeller took turns
impersonating honorable icons of Hispanic descent who have made a
difference during "Portraits of Courage: Latinos Shaping a Nation," a
performance held at the Haugh Performing Arts Center sponsored by
ASCC and Latina Leadership Network. From civil rights hero Cesar
Chavez to Roberto Clemente, a Puerto Rican sports legend from the
Pittsburgh Pirates, Fernandez and Zeller gave new life to the
One of the historic figures dramatized was Dolores Huerta. Huerta
was born in 1930 in the state of New Mexico.
Huerta became involved in a community group supporting farm workers,
which merged with the Agricultural Workers Organization Committee
(CAWOC), where she served as secretary treasurer. It was during this
time were she teamed up with Cesar Chavez to form the Farm Workers
Association, which later became known as the United Farm Workers
(UFW). Huerta served a major role in the early years of the farm
workers' organization. She was also the coordinator for East Coast
efforts in the table grape boycott, 1968-1969, which helped to win
recognition for the farm workers' union.
In 1970, Huerta, now becoming part of the growing feminist movement,
helped lobby for legislative protections for the farm workers. She
was on a road for helping overlooked people. It was her mission,
along with Chavez, to improve the harsh conditions they were working in.
While peacefully demonstrating against the unfair treatment from the
owners of the land and the police in 1988, she was severely injured
and beaten by the police as they clubbed her and the demonstrators.
Not only did she help to change the way that police treated
demonstrators, but she gained strength. Right after this attack she
returned to the farm workers' union. Still alive today, Huerta has a
total of 11 children, including four with Richard Chavez, brother of
Cesar Chavez, a man who inspired and motivated her.
Cesar Estrada Chavez, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy noted, was "one of the
heroic figures of our time." The American hero Cesar Chavez is best
known for his efforts to gain better working conditions for grape
pickers alongside Huerta. On March 31, 1927, Chavez was born to a
poor family on his family's farm in Yuma, Arizona. When Chavez was
10, he and his family became migrant workers after losing their farm
in the Great Depression. While laboring across the southwest in the
vineyards, Chavez was exposed to the harsh and cruel living
conditions the farmers had to endure in order to make a living.
Chavez's life as a community organizer began in 1952 when he joined
the Community Service Organization (CSO), a prominent Latino civil
rights group. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Chavez served as CSO's
national director. In 1962, Chavez resigned from the CSO in order to
follow his dream of creating an organization that would protect and
serve farm workers.
In 1972, and again in 1988 at the age of 61, Chavez went on a hunger
strike inspired by Gandhi where he fasted for 32 days in support of
the United Farm Workers, and their children.
At the age of 66, Chavez passed away in his sleep on April 23, 1993,
in San Luis, Arizona. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral
service to pay their respects to their hero, in the town of Delano,
California. Because of Chavez, peaceful tactics and public support
contracts were negotiated to improve working conditions and increase
wages. Chavez was a true Latin American hero. He dedicated his life
to helping people without a cost. He never earned more than $6,000 a
year and he never even owned a home. "Si se puede" are the words
Chavez lived by and encouraged people to live by as well.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Rafael Cordero, also known as
"The Father of Public Education" from San Juan, Puerto Rico,
established in his home a free school for all children,
regardlesstheir race. Cordero maintained his educational center for 58 years.
Cordero was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to a poor family; his
father was a poor man who worked in the tobacco fields. Cordero was
self-educated through his love of literature and his determination to
teach and educate himself. Cordero taught reading, calligraphy,
mathematics, and Catholic instruction, at his home, which he opened
to the children of Puerto Rico as a public school.
In 1890, Cordero was immortalized in a painting titled La Escuela del
Maestro, by artist Francisco Oller. The house where he opened his
public school for the children was turned into a museum, and marked
as a historical site by the government of Puerto Rico, and the
National Register of Historical Places.
Trade Union leader and civil rights activist Luisa Moreno was born in
the city of Guatemala in Mexico.
During the early years of her career as a labor organizer, because of
her family's disagreement with her political position, she changed
her name from Blanca Rodriguez to Luisa Moreno, in honor of a Mexican
labor organizer of that era, Luis Moreno.
Moreno was a major figure for nearly three decades. During the
1930s, Moreno worked in a variety of areas. She unionized black and
Latin cigar rollers in Florida. In 1934, she joined the Congress of
Industrial Organizations. She soon was elected as the first Latina
member of the California CIO Council.
Marine hero Daniel Fernandez (1944-1966) was the first Latin American
to receive a Medal of Honor. He joined the United States Military
because the military promised to give him and his family documents
and a green card. That never happened.
The highest award that can be given by the United States military was
given to him, the Medal of Honor, for his valiant action in the Hau
Nghia province of Vietnam in February 1966. Marine Fernandez, only
21 years old died, when he threw himself at a live grenade to save
the lives of his friends. He was also awarded the Purple Heart.
"Portraits of Courage" also portrayed Andrea Perez's life. Perez was
a Mexican woman that fell in love with Sylvester Davis. While working
together, they fell in love and wanted to get married, but couldn't
because of the law. Perez was viewed as being "white." Back then,
Mexicans were viewed as "white" because it sounded better than being
When Perez and Davis went to apply for a marriage license with the
county clerk of Los Angeles, Perez listed her race as "white" while
as her to-be husband registered as "negro." Under the California
law, individuals of Mexican ancestry generally were classified as white.
County Clerk W.G. Sharp refused to issue the license based on the
California Civil Code Section 60, which stated "All marriages of
white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of he Malacy race, or
mulattoes are illegal and void." Perez petitioned the California
Supreme Court for an original Writ of Mandate to compel the issuance
of the license.
After a long hard-fought battle, the California Supreme Court became
the first court of the 20th Century to hold that a state
anti-miscegenation law violates the Federal Constitution. The
California Supreme Court later declared that the portions of
California law that restrict marriages based on race to be unconstitutional.
On August 18 1934, Roberto Clemente was born in Barrio San Antonio in
Carolina, Puerto Rico. Clemente is remembered today as a sports
legend, often referred to as "The Great One," but in his native home
of Puerto Rico Clemente is remembered as a cultural hero.
Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American player elected to the
Baseball Hall of Fame. Born to a poor family, Clemente was the
youngest of seven children. His father ran a sugar cane plantation,
and his mother ran a grocery store for plantation workers.
In 1955, Clemente was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and started
as their right fielder. In 1960, after a few years of learning the
ropes, he became a dominant player, helping the Pirates to win both
the National League pennant, and the World Series.
Clemente had an impressive batting average of .317, and is one of the
only players to have collected 3,000 hits. His personal record
included four National League batting championships, 12 Golden Glove
Awards, the National League batting MVP in 1966, and the World Series
in 1971, where he batted .414. Sadly, Clemente's life ended on
December 31, 1972, in a plane crash while flying to Nicaragua to
deliver clothing, food, and medical supplies to earthquake
victims. Clemente's body was never found. In 1973, Clemente was
awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.