April 3, 2009

Protest and vigil at community college in North County

Palomar College students celebrate Cesar Chavez following their own legacy to fight for the Dream Act

By America Barcelo-Feldman

Dream Act Vigil, students, professors and activists.

SAN MARCOS — With a 24 hour fast, a quiet protest, and an all night vigil, Palomar College students commemorated and honored the farm workers’ leader Cesar Chavez.

Formed in the community college of north San Diego County, the recently founded “United Students for the Dream Act Coalition” (U.S.D.A) initiated the celebration for the labor leader with an example of union and sacrifice in support of thousands of undocumented students.

“We want to follow Chavez’ example, and this holiday is a perfect day to launch our movement for the DREAM Act. To honor the memory of this leader we will raise awareness and support to motivate other students to fight in favor of thousands of young people like us who are not documented. The high costs of universities prevent them to finish their education,” founder of the coalition USDA Viviana Gonzalez said.

On Monday, March 30th, the college students started a 24-hour fast, a night vigil with candles followed by a prayer at 10 p.m. to pass the midnight under the campus tower clock where they remained all night.

The students spent the night in the gardens of the campus and finished the offering on Tuesday, March 31 at noon, breaking the fast celebrating Cesar Chavez with posters, photographs, pamphlets, dances, speeches and food.

“Cesar Chavez is an example of sacrifice and pacific protest. We want to follow his example, because with his non-violent fight he obtained gov-ernment’s attention and earned rights for the farm workers. Today, we want all students to join our fight to make the government approve the DREAM Act,” Gonzalez emphasized.

The USDA Coalition is integrated with student members of different clubs at Palomar College and Cal State San Marcos, such as MEChA, Gay and Straight Alliance, Palomar Encuentros Leadership, and OSO of CSUSM, among others.

The activities of USDA’s protest at Palomar College were supported by professors Carlos von Son, Vice-president of the Union of the Faculty; John Valdez, Chairman of Multicultural Studies Department; Christine Moore and Luis Cueva of Chicano Studies. In addition, the activists Enrique Morones and Mark Day were present.

The young students began to plan Chavez celebration several weeks ahead of time. In spite of spring break vacation last week their spirit never faltered.

Early on Monday, USDA students mobilized on campus to distribute fliers and create posters. The most difficult part was to obtain permission from Palomar College’s authorities to spend the night on campus as a sign of protest.

“The professors who supported us were a key to make our protest happen. They are supportive of our movement, because they recognize the significance of this fight. We want all young people to have the opportunity to finish university, and this could be true only if the government approves a law that could legalize thousands of undocumented students”, added the young activist who is also a Vice-president of MEChA at Palomar.

The professors were supporting college students to the end in their fight because they recognize the prevailing necessity of the Dream Act being approved.

Because the DREAM Act proposal will be presented soon in Congress, young people around the country have begun to organize themselves to increase chances of approval.

Also, for many professors this is a good option for the thousands of undocumented students that can leave the shadows.

“I believe that this law will be a benefit for the country. There are thousands of young people, who have been here all their lives, they are part of our culture, and have been studying in our schools. Because they do not have a piece of paper that credit them as legal resident they cannot finish a higher education, and often they are deported. This country loses much in this way, since the education is an investment that must be useful. They are our future,” John Valdez mentioned.

The Palomar College professors have united in this protest, because they believe this law could be viable and positive to help solve the immigration crisis in the country. They feel this is a bipartisan legislative piece that can be approved.

“The DREAM Act will help undocumented immigrant students, who have grown up in the US and have stayed in our schools. Also, it applies to students who have stayed out of trouble. I believe that this law can help thousands of young people. The reality is that these students have no way to become legal and to earn an honest living.  If passed, the DREAM Act will open this needed door for them. The only problem that I see with the DREAM Act is that one of the options is to serve in the military. I think instead they can service their communities,” Professor Carlos von Son said.

Within the celebrations to commemorate Cesar Chavez’s Day, the activist Enrique Morones was the keynote speaker, who pointed out the importance of the fight of young people to continue with the leader’s legacy of non-violent protests and remembering his struggle and sacrifice.

“Chavez is an example of sacrifice. I congratulate these students who were fasting 24 hours. I joined them in the vigil last night and together we made a prayer for all people in need. We must propel the fight to obtain new immigration reform. Then all young people can continue their education. Also, to stop the deaths of innocent people who try to cross the border reaching better opportunities,” the activist said.

Besides the protest, the Chavez celebration at Palomar included presentation of the folkloric group Pitao Cozobi “Dances of Oaxaca” with Delia and Faby Martinez. Photo exhibition was done to remember the farm leader’s actions, principles and prayers.

David Lopez, of the Institute of Cesar Chavez Foundation, participated with an inspirational speech in which he mentioned the union leader’s achievements. Joe Madrigal, Vice-president of Palomar Student Services, also participated in the celebration.

During the ceremony, MEChA members mentioned that their group recently founded the Scholarship Program “Paola Oropeza,” serving undocumented high school students helping them to continue studying.

This scholarship is in honor of Paola Oropeza, the ex- president of this group who was deported last year to Mexico cutting her education. She was on the path to be transferred to another university. Paola and her family were taken out of the country leaving behind many dreams.

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