Fernendo Bribiezca believes in the passion of Cesar Chavez.
Bribiezca, a member of the United Farm Workers Association, by chance heard about Utah Valley State College's fourth annual commemoration of the celebrated leader of migrant farm workers while visiting a Utah County friend this week.Chavez was the founding father of UFWA, a migrant worker union formed to fight against pauper's wages, squalid living conditions provided by farm owners and violent tactics used to intimidate the traveling workers.
"Only when those who it doesn't affect get angry does it start to make a difference," said Bribiezca, clad in a red jacket emblazoned with the migrant-worker symbol of an eagle. He also urged support of the migrant workers' boycott on California strawberries in an effort for better working conditions.
Paul Espinosa, a producer, writer and director whose films about Latinos have won national acclaim, nodded in agreement with Bribiezca. Chavez, who died in 1993 near Yuma, Ariz., inspired Espinosa "to work to right social injustice."
Espinosa, the keynote speaker at Tuesday's event, met Chavez in the 1960s as the boycott on grapes reached national prominence. News coverage of Chavez's leadership and 30-day fast was becoming widespread, and the ranks of the union had grown to 1,200.
"I was surprised how small he was and how quiet his voice was, because I'd heard no much about him," Espinosa said. "I expected to meet a giant of a man."
Espinosa, who produced the award-winning movie " . . . and the Earth did not swallow him" about a 12-year-old son of migrant Texas farm workers, said Chavez dropped out of school in the eighth grade and lived in a barrio called "Sal Si Puedes."
Translated, the name means, "leave if you can."
Chavez decided to live by the slogan, "si, se fuera," which affirmed his confidence that he could get out if he so desired. He stayed with his fellow workers to make their lives better.
After his death, President Bill Clinton noted in 1994 that Chavez was a "Moses of his people." He also was posthumously given the Aguila de Azteca, the highest award given by the Mexican government.
There is still a fight for fairness in the fields of migrant workers. Conditions are just as poor as they were 30 years ago in some places, Espinosa said.
"The conditions are very much present and in some ways as bad was what Cesar Chavez was fighting in the 1960s," he said.
Bill Cobb, UVSC history professor, said the celebration is dedicated each year to the civil rights legacy of Chavez to increase awareness of how people of different colors and backgrounds make up a part of our society.
Some 450 students at UVSC are American-born Latinos, the largest ethnic group represented at the 15,000-student school.