Cesar Chavez Lives On in Latino Leadership
by Eduardo Corona, NALCAB Fellow
The gentlemen wearing NALCAB purple attended the White House Champions of Change Award ceremony. From L to R: Eduardo Corona, 2012 NALCAB Fellow, Leon Berrios, 2011 NALCAB Fellow and Christopher Sanchez, NALCAB Program Director.
On March 29, 2012 I attended the White House event recognizing Champions of Change honorees; Latino leaders whose life work can be attributed to the legacy of Cesar Chavez. I was invited because I was a nominee and it was a great experience. It was wonderful hearing how different Latino leaders are living and practicing the Cesar Chavez principles and core values. I heard histories about how leaders rose from their challenges whether they were economic, racial and educational. They now share the tools they used to reach success with the community so they too may live a better life. I was struck by a common theme and that was that spending their own life to improve the lives of others actually helped them. They are proof that living in service for the community has given them a sense of great worth. I was amazed by how their call to action through work, education, leadership has helped to build vibrant communities.
One of the most interesting things at the ceremony was hearing that the awarded leaders are ready to share and work with local, state and national organizations and collaborate for the betterment of community life and boost Latino contributions to the country. President Obama made a special appearance and shared very encouraging words about the importance of Latino leadership and our connection to improvements in communities.
I thank NALCAB fellowship training for teaching me how to advocate Congressional representatives about our community challenges and needs. While in DC, I set up two meetings with legislators from my home state in Oregon. I met with Senator Jeff Merkley and legislative staff from Senator Ron Wyden’s office. I was able to highlight the necessity to connect the national economic growth with immigration reform and talk about the job creation challenge without the migrants. I talked with them about the Latino community contributions to the economy, social processes, and politics. I also added a brief description of my work with my organization Adelante Mujeres. At the end of each meeting I left a letter where I wrote the principal points of my speech at those meetings.
For more information on NALCAB’s Colegio Fellowship training program visit NALCAB Colegio.
A Fellows' Travel Journal: ¡Si Se Puede!
A blog by León Berrios
León Berrios is a 2011 graduate of the NALCAB Colegio Fellowship program. Berrios is also the Family Advocate at Conexión Americas in Nashville, TN. Conexion Americas helps Latino families realize their aspirations for social and economic advancement. León has been previously published. His essay titled Know Your Rights was published in Shelterforce Magazine's 2011 online anniversary edition.
March 29, 2012 will be an unforgettable day in the life of this immigrant, his family, friends and the Latino community and as a whole in the Volunteer State of Tennessee. What an honor to be nominated for the Champions of Change recognition. Such honor increased its relevance and impact in my life when I learned that among the nominees were leaders that have been working for social and economic justice even before I was born. Listening to these leaders sharing their experiences, adventures, and hearing them admit to mistakes with such humbleness still resonates in my mind and will serve me forever.
The ceremony combined formality and protocol with the relaxed atmosphere that characterizes Latino leaders. In the room people were hugging, laughing and telling jokes, and a flavorful variety of the Spanish language was exchanged in the room.
It was reassuring to hear that the Champions of Change leaders were willing to sacrifice in order to contribute to the development of their communities. It was also great to see how impactful NALCAB is in terms of its commitment to the Latino Community of the United States. I felt really proud to be wearing the purple colors representative of NALCAB and being part of such a down to earth national organization.
The biggest lesson I took from this experience is that creativity is an important component when organizing community. I enjoyed each and every story told about Cesar Chavez. I gathered from them that he was an emotionally smart person who would share and invite everyone to join in on what he believed was right.
The highlight of this Champions of Change event that paid tribute to Cesar Chavez was being in the presence of President Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States. I was especially honored to deliver “Carta al Sr Presidente” a song I wrote for President Obama on immigration, unequal treatment under the law, discrimination and freedom of religion. One of my favorites verses is:
“I want all of the absent to know that the cactus, the feather, and the Indian headdress are symbols on my forehead. That I am one of the DREAMERS, I am a faithful combatant. And your deportation will never be forgotten and I will never be indifferent to it.“
A lot of memories and experience came to my mind on that day. I was struck with a a flashback memory that came over me minutes before the ceremony at Starbucks. I realized that the last time I was at a Starbucks was 5 years prior in New York City. I remember clearly because it was my very first day in America. I went to Starbucks to buy a cup of coffee. It was traumatic. Imagine New York City at rush hour. People rushing in buying and selecting from over 300 hundred kinds of coffee and deciding between grande, tall, venti, skim, non-fat and hold the foam. It was my turn to order and the pressure was on. Making things worse, was the dismissive barista who looked through me inviting the next person in line to place his order with his eyes. Unsuccessfully I took a seat outside on the sidewalk without my coffee accompanied only by the biggest feeling of humiliation and an overwhelming feeling of invisibility as though I could slip through the cracks and no one would notice.
Fast forward ---to present day. The day of this memorable ceremony. I find myself in the capital of the U.S., now equipped with a mastery of the English language and the Starbucks vernacular. I confidently order my grande iced vanilla latte with four sugars. This time, with my head held high, I sit inside drinking my coffee, reading my Wall Street Journal while I wait to be part of the Champions of Change ceremony at the White House, where I hope to meet the President and I smile as I remember Cesar Chavez’ words - ¡Si se Puede! Yes we can!
Thank you NALCAB for this opportunity…¡¡¡Eternamente agradecido!!!