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Chavez’s life and work captured in photographs

UTEP’s Centennial Museum hosts exhibition on civil rights activist

Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05

chavez

Special to The Prospector

The Centennial Museum, located on the corner of University avenue and Wiggins street, will hold the exhibit, “In His Own Words: The Life and Work of Cesar Chavez,” in honor of the civil rights activist.

On April 23, 1993, Cesar Chavez was found dead in his apartment in Arizona. He left behind a legacy of civil and labor rights struggles and an organization and leadership that changed the lives of migrant workers in America.

More than 18 years after his death he is still remembered and honored.

The Centennial Museum, located on the corner of University Avenue and Wiggins Street, holds the exhibit, "In His Own Words: The Life and Work of Cesar Chavez." The event opened Sept. 6 and will continue until Dec. 3.

The event is brought to UTEP by Humanities Texas, a traveling program that supports public programs in history, literature, philosophy and other humanities disciplines.

William Wood, director of the Centennial Museum, said the event was planned by previous museum director, Marshall Carter-Tripp, who coordinated the arrangements. Woods said the exhibit is an example of UTEP's commitment to diversity and honoring the Mexican American heritage of the region.

"The history of how it came here goes back actually over a year, this is an exhibit that we are partnering with Humanities Texas to bring to El Paso, which is a regional nonprofit that essentially makes cultural programming available across the state," Wood said. "The exhibit is basically biographical. It starts with Chavez's early years and his childhood experience, becoming a migrant, which had a great impact in his life."

Erica Bencomo, senior multimedia journalism major, said that it's important to have these kinds of events  at UTEP because they give students a notion of how farm workers struggled.

 "(Cesar Chavez) helped the Chicanos, but in reality, we are all Mexicans because that's what a Chicano truly is. So this event helps us to understand our past and feel proud and also to feel the culture more," Bencomo said.

Dennis Bixler-Marquez, director of the Chicano Studies Program, said this exhibit gives a glimpse of the life of Chavez and tells the story through his own words.

"The difference to other (exhibitions) is how they focus on farm work, and this one, which is compiled from many sources, examines the life of Cesar Chavez and tells in his own words the story of not only him growing up, but becoming an organizer, training with the Industrial Arts Foundation and ultimately becoming the head of the United Farm Workers," Bixler-Marquez said.

According to Wood, the exhibit is based on photographs that capture the essence of Chavez's early years through his days as an activist. The photographs include people that the public may not know, but that were also key players of the development of the farm worker movement. Farmworkers' success came not only from strikes, but from support received from urban areas, such as university students willing to join the boycotts proposed by the UFW.

Marie Crystal Wilson, freshman education major, believes UTEP should have something that connects to younger people.  

"I think UTEP should have something that relates to us (students), in our generation. They could bring shows to UTEP. I think it'll be more exciting and something that will fascinate students," Wilson said. "They could bring something interesting to us to the Geology Lawn, not just something that our grandparents went through, but rather something that is from our time."

Woods said that many people may not think of the effect Chavez had on this region and only associate him with California.

"There's a tendency most people think that the Cesar Chavez story is a California story, that it's about those grapes, but I remember not eating grapes because of the awareness of the working condition," Wood said. "The farm worker story isn't a California story, it's certainly across the entire nation, it's an El Paso story; one of the first strikes that the farm workers were involved in organizing and working on was right here in El Paso, with people picking cotton."

Christian Guerrero may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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