Anne Corsey’s six-grade class at Bella Vista Elementary wanted to change the name of a nearby street. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Leslie Radford: CNJ Staff writer
A lesson in Hispanic heritage inspired sixth-graders from Bella Vista Elementary to honor civil rights activist Cesar Chavez.
Their efforts to rename Jefferson Street in honor of the labor leader appear to have failed, but their teacher said they achieved one goal: They learned a lot.
Chavez grew up a farm laborer and founded Community Service Organization (CSO), a Latino civil rights group. He was an activist throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, protesting the undermining of migrant workers.
“He fought for the rights of Hispanics and farm laborers,” said Shawndrika O’Neal, 11, who took part in the project.
Teacher Ann Corsey said her class of about 25 students studied Chavez during Hispanic heritage month in September.
“The kids asked me why there wasn’t a street named after him (in Clovis) and I told them I didn’t know,” Corsey said. “Then we came up with the idea to rename Jefferson Street ‘Cesar Chavez Drive.’ They learned a lot from this project.”
Jefferson Street runs in front of the school.
“It was a lot of work,” said O’Neal. “But we had a lot of fun, too.”
Classmate Tanya Romero represented the school in a Hispanic community show on KENW-TV in Portales and participated in collecting signatures for a petition to change the street name. She said she was excited to collect several signatures but when it came to one “no” she just moved on to the next person.
“I was kind of upset but I had to show respect like Cesar Chavez did,” Romero said. “I just said ‘OK’ and went to the next house.”
Several residents along Jefferson Street said they support the children’s efforts to change the street name, but they weren’t sure they wanted the headaches associated with a new street name.
“I thinks it’s great,” said Wanda Myers who lives in the 3600 block of Jefferson. “The only drawback to it is having to change my address and everything. But if that’s what the kids want, it’s OK with me.”
Trinity Segura lives in the 3000 block of Jefferson and heard about the project through her niece, a fifth-grade student at Bella Vista.
“I don’t mind the change,” Segura said. “I think Hispanics deserve recognition just like the African-Americans got when they changed Martin Luther King Boulevard.”
But Clovis school board members told students they would support the name change only if students could collect 100-percent support from residents on the street.
Corsey said the students only gathered 54 percent of the signatures needed.
“They’re not disappointed,” she said. “I told them we’d keep trying. They put so much effort into the project.”
American Legion Post 25 donated about $300 for city filing fees after students made a presentaion to the Legion, the school board and several other community leaders. Principal Adan Estrada said the students would be giving the money back.
Estrada said Bella Vista Elementary’s Hispanic population is more than half of the student body. “(Chavez) was someone the kids could relate to,” he said.
Estrada said about 320 students from Bella Vista will participate in “Cesar Chavez Day” on March 31. It is celebrated nationally as a community service day and students will work in the school’s neighborhood picking up trash, cleaning up alleys, and giving back to their community.
Cesar E. Chavez facts:
• His motto in life — “sí se puede” (“it can be done”)
• 1927, March 31 – Cesario Estrada Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona near the small farm his grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s.
• 1937 – Cesar’s family lost their farm in the Great Depression. The Chavez family migrated across the southwest laboring in the fields and vineyards, finally settling in California.
• 1942 – Cesar quit school after the eighth grade to work in the fields full-time to help support his family.
• 1952 – Community organizer Fred Ross met Cesar and recruited him to work for the Community Service Organization (CSO), a prominent Latino Civil Rights Group.
• 1962, March 31 — He founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and dedicated himself to organizing farm workers full-time.
• 1993, April 23 — Cesar died peacefully in his sleep at the modest home of a retired San Luis, Arizona farm worker. Cesar was in Arizona conducting UFW work at the time of his death.