Helen Chavez, widow of civil rights and farm labor leader Cesar Chavez passed away at the age of 88. Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski, vice president of communications for Cesar Chavez Foundation and Antonio Bustamante, a member of the team that provided protection for Cesar Chavez talk about the life of Helen Chavez.
Carey Peña: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizonte." I'm Carey Peña, in tonight for José Cárdenas.
Carey Peña: We'll remember Helen Chavez, the widow of civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, and hear from those who knew her.
Carey Peña: Plus, people walking through the desert to draw attention to the thousands who have died while crossing the border.
Carey Peña: And learn about a new, cutting-edge high school in the valley, focusing on computer coding and technology.
Video: Carey Peña: All this coming up straight ahead on "Horizonte."
"Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.
Carey Peña: Helen Chavez, the widow of farm labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez, passed away at the age of 88. She helped the farm workers union and her husband by keeping the books and walking the picket lines, all while raising their eight children. This week she was laid to rest next to her husband in California. Joining me to talk about Helen Chavez's tremendous life and legacy, Antonio Bustamante, former UFW organizer and member of Cesar Chavez's staff that provided protection for him. And Phoenix city councilman Michael Nowakowski, vice-president of communications for the Cesar Chavez foundation. Gentlemen, thank you for being here.
Michael Nowakowski: Pleasure.
Carey Peña: Councilman, first to you, you attended the funeral. It struck me that Mrs. Chavez was laid to rest in a way that was so befitting of who she was as a person. Incredibly humble, and she wanted to be surrounded by the farm workers who she fought so hard for all of these years.
Michael Nowakowski: You know, she was buried in kings, California, and there was about over 3,000 people that came. Busloads of farm workers that came down on Sunday just to be a part of the rosary, and the mass on Monday morning, where cardinal MAHONEY presided over the mass. The stories you would hear about Helen, and all the great stuff. One powerful message where Paul Chavez stood up and said, you know, I think it's sad when people say behind every strong man there's a strong woman. My mother never stood behind my father. He always -- she always walked side by side. And sometimes even in front of my father. And it was just incredible to hear those stories, to hear how Helen was not just the mother of eight, but the mother of many, a lot of the farm workers would live right there, and when the holidays came, they had nowhere to go. They couldn't go back to Mexico or go back to the towns they were originally from, so she would have Christmas dinners, and Thanksgiving dinners, and she was the mother of many. And those were types of stories we heard about Helen.
Carey Peña: Antonio, you knew the family for many years. I want to dig into what she was like as a person. She didn't like the spotlight, she didn't need a lot of credit, but she really did stand with her husband, and it was an incredible love story between the two of them.
Antonio Bustamante: When we would see her, people would work hard in the struggle, in the movement, we would see her and we were young people, and we would smile. Because she would give us a sense of great self-assurance, strength. This is the woman who was the rock to Cesar Chavez. This is the woman who, when he would go out in the early days of trying to organize farm workers, and failed miserably, it was one of the hardest things to do, to organize farm workers, she gave him the impetus, she gave him the power, the strength, don't give up, keep going. Because she understood what the struggle was. She was a farm worker herself, when she was 15 her father died, she started working in the fields at age 7. At 15 the main bread winner of the family, and the oldest of six. Strong woman, and as the councilman has said, she was never walking behind him, you always understood she was at his side. The kind of person who went to jail to protest the indignities suffered by farm workers became the bread winner of the family. He was out organizing, someone had to -- and killing themselves doing it, hard, hard, works, who was going to support the children? Eight children. She would be in the field, hard, hard work. What an amazing person. And as I say, the rock not only to CESAR, but to so many of us.
Carey Peña: One thing that struck me as I was researching for this show, they really had opportunities that could have been lucrative job opportunities. And from my understanding, that Mr. Chavez consulted her every step of the way, and she said, no, as a family this is what we're committed to, despite the fact they passed up potential big jobs and earning more money, and upper middle class life.
Antonio Bustamante: He was offered to be the government -- United States government's head of the peace corps. How that would have changed the family, a much easier life they would have led, and he said, no, he could not have said no if his wife had not endorsed it.
Carey Peña: What does that say about the two of them as a team, taking on something as you say that can be daunting at times, when you try to organize, and you try to fight for what you feel in your heart is so right. What does that say about their love story and who they were as a team?
Antonio Bustamante: They were on the same page, and understood the enormous sacrifices that were required to do something seemingly impossible as organize farm workers.
Carey Peña: Let me ask you gentlemen how she felt about recent events as they unfolded. As I understand it, when her husband passed away, she left the funeral arm in arm with President Obama. And as the story is told, she said to President Obama, please promise me that you will do something about immigration reform. Surely that had to be a disappointment in her eyes, where we're at today.
Michael Nowakowski: You know, back in October of 2012, President Obama named the Chavez center as a national park. And they were visiting the tomb site of CESAR and that's where Helen grabbed the arm of the president and said, "president, I have a favor to ask you." And the president said, "anything" "can you help us with immigration reform?" And he said "absolutely." And he kept his promise. He did everything in his power to pass some type of immigration reform. Then the whole word "illegal" came about, and she was angry. She was saying that word is like calling a Mexican a wetback, or a SPIC. She said that word should not exist in our vocabulary. So she started a social media campaign telling the media to stop using that word. Stop using the I word. And it was powerful, that one of her last actions were to fight against stereotyping and using that I word. So I think that was one of the most powerful things I think she's left, using social media.
Carey Peña: I love that she was savvy enough to use social media in that campaign. You read that great quote by their son, Paul, I also pulled a quote from their grandson, and he had said their struggle was one of justice and sacrifice. There's a lot we can learn from what they taught us. What do you think is her greatest legacy?
Antonio Bustamante: She was the rock. I always come back to that. You can talk about the times that she engaged in civil disobedience with many others, thus inspiring so many hundreds and thousands more to dot same thing. You can talk about how she is the person who was the head of the credit union, which gave out loans in excess of $20 million over the years, for 25 years she ran that. Somebody who had to drop out of high school, the very smart woman. And simply got trained and did it. You can talk about all those things, but at the end of the day, you think of these two people going through often hell, the rock.
Carey Peña: And you had -- worked with the Cesar Chavez foundation, so what is the mission now going forward?
Michael Nowakowski: The mission is to keep the legacy of Cesar Chavez and Helen Chavez alive. It's by telling stories about ordinary people doing outstanding things. There's so many stories out there. There's American stories. It's the stories that we're -- where Cesar Chavez was just tired, he wanted to give up, and Helen would turn around and say, you know, you have to have faith. We're doing the right thing. You go to the meetings and only one or two people would show up, and he kept a journal. And in the journal he would put that down that, "why am I doing this? What am I putting my family through?" And Helen would say, "we started with nothing. Don't worry. Just leave it in god's hands." And the second entry of that journal was, "I had a conversation with Helen and I'm going to continue." So that's the kind of consultant, that's the kind of mother, not just to her kids, but to Cesar Chavez and to the whole movement.
Carey Peña: You know, we only have 30 seconds left, I do want to ask you, though, with the incendiary discussions and dialogue out there right now, how concerned are you about this subject and something that the Chavezes fought so hard for equality and dignity, what is your level of Kemp going into this election this year?
Michael Nowakowski: You know, I believe that they would say every person is an organizer. So it's time for us to go out there and organize. Organize within your own family. Organize within your own block. Organize within your own church, organize within your own neighborhood. And we all have to go out there and organize and get people out there to vote. Because if you don't vote, you have no say-so in this election. That's the powerful message, and that's one that CESAR did, that's one thing Helen did, and their leg continues doing.
Carey Peña: Certainly a big part of their legacy. Gentlemen, thank you for being here. Great to see you the both of you. Really appreciate it.
Carey Peña: The migrant trail is an annual pilgrimage where people walk throughout desert from the U.S.- Mexico board to Tucson, aimed at drawing attention to people who have died, thousands while crossing the southern border. We'll talk to the organizer in a moment, but first take a look at a clip of what the migrant trail is all about.
Carey Peña: Joining me now to talk more about this annual pilgrimage is Helain Day, organizer of the migrant trail. Thanks for being here.
Helain Day: Thank you.
Carey Peña: That video really tells a thousand stories. What is the objective?
Helain Day: The objective is the -- of the migrant trail, now that it's passed its 13th year, is to help be a very intentional, unifying space for people from all backgrounds, all walks of life who truly and organically want to understand our borderlands, who want to understand what it is, the deeper meaning behind the dialogue that's happening on the television set day in, day out.
Carey Peña: Is it a political movement? Or statement?
Helain Day: It is not an overt political statement. It is a political statement in its action. We're bearing witness to migrant death, horrific, intentional, death, every single day. So in that, yes, it's a political action. And we bear witness to that.
Carey Peña: You know, I was looking at your site, and one of the quotes on there, it says, "we all walk for different reasons, and find common ground in our witness to the inhumanity of death." For you, personally, what was the draw?
Helain Day: The draw was in 2007, I began interning with an organization in Tucson, and I worked closely with Rodriguez, who is also a migrant organizer, and one of the things that most affected me was day in, day out, the pain in families' faces when somebody is missing, the injustice, the abuses in the labor, labor force, and reading, there's a document that the coroner sends over, and it's how the person died. And the GPS coordinates for where they died. I will never forget the day that I was working with cat and there was a 14-year-old boy on there, and he died by hanging. And that profoundly affected me, because that was self-inflicted, because you have to be at such a desperate point in life, in that moment that you know you have to end your own suffering. And that's a tragedy, and it's completely unacceptable.
Carey Peña: Word has really spread nationwide about this walk. Who comes to participate?
Helain Day: From everywhere. And it's amazing. It just expands the breadth of knowledge, every single year we have the faith community, we have folks who come from unions, from all over. Folks who come from different countries, Germany, Canada, South America. But you have the folks that interest me most I would say are the folks that come from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, who they just show up, they get off the plane with their stuff, and they registered, and they have this look in their eye, and they don't know what to expect. But they're hungry and they want to understand and take it back to their community.
Carey Peña: Do you ever encounter anyone who shows up sort of with an anti-immigrant mentality and then the mind shift changes?
Helain Day: You know, we're very fortunate that on the walk we do not, because this is something, when you self-prescribe to come on a walk with many, many other people, you're going to go in with a relatively open mind, but that doesn't mean to say we don't encounter people on the road. Almost every year, I want to say at least the past five years there's a man who will shout and scream at us and one year even brandishes a shotgun at us.
Carey Peña: As you negotiation Donald Trump has said if he becomes president he will build a wall. What do you think about that?
Helain Day: I think it's rooted in completely erroneous thinking. It's ridiculous. It actually further dehumanizes a human situation. It doesn't address any of the true pushes and pull factors that are bringing people to this country. It doesn't address NAFTA, it doesn't address any of the other trade agreements that are being entered into without the real visceral and consistent finger on the pulse of the people of who will this affect? Yes, somebody is going to make money over here, and that is the way this capitalism runs, but who is that indigenous agricultural worker who is going to be displaced when the fields went under? When the industrialization of the borders decided to move to another country, because they could find cheaper labor somewhere else? These are the kinds of policies and actions that are causing migration. It doesn't just occur out of nowhere. We have to address those things, and if we have a political candidate who cannot aroma tick hatly address those items, and can only put a superficial, let's just build a wall, then what are we looking at and what are we saying about ourselves as a community and as a people who preach and who 0 certainly say that we're life-reviving people, but yet we go into that desert, when we walk for those six days, six people died. There were six bodies found. Six people, six humans, brothers, sisters, mothers. We're not taking that into consideration in any way, shape, or form, when we allow people to spew that kind of hateful rhetoric.
Carey Peña: More than 6,000 people as I understand it, have died.
Helain Day: absolutely, across the borders.
Carey Peña: We only have a few seconds, I want to end with one of the testimonies I read on your site. Chris, who identifies himself as an academic, he said, quote -- in walking I can act with the reality of death, physical and emotional pain, and disastrous government policies. I'll walk the migrant trail until borderland deaths are no more. Is that a realistic goal that you guys have?
Carey Peña: It's realistic for us, absolutely. And it's realistic in the sense that it's sustainable. Because the story transcends.
Carey Peña: Where can people find more about you and your efforts?
Helain Day: AZmigranttrail.org, or just Google us.
Carey Peña: Thank you so much. I appreciate you being here.
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Carey Peña: There's a new specialty school for students in the Phoenix union high school district, offering computer programming and technology education. The Phoenix coding academy opens in August. A lot of exciting things going on. With me to talk about this new school is Seth Beute, Phoenix coding academy principal. I love this topic. I'm fascinated by this movement across the country. Tell us how the school is different for the students who you guys are attracting.
Seth Beute: Sure. First, thank you for having me. I appreciate the time. The school is different, our district is a portfolio district in which we like to provide a lot of options and opportunities for our students. Large comprehensive campuses, down to small schools, but specially schools. Based on the success of our boutique schools, and talking to community members and industry members we decided to focus on a school that's focused on computer, science, and computer coding. Which is computer programming, and what's different about it, it's a small school with a unique learning environment in that first and foremost, we want to have all of our students able to apply for colleges all across the country. And then also have students have the opportunity to apply for jobs right out of high school.
Carey Peña: You want them to be career ready.
Seth Beute: Yes.
Carey Peña: Because the tech companies are recruiting very young people for very high dollars.
Seth Beute: Yes. Phoenix is a hot spot for the tech industry, and the job growth is above average in this industry.
Carey Peña: I was reading an article actually published by PBS news hour, and the headline was the nation's largest school districts rushing to fill the coding gap. Why do you think in your opinion, coding matters so much for kids? It encompasses a lot of things. It's not just programming.
Seth Beute: Correct. Coding and our school in particular, computer science computer coding, we'll have other options, including networking and engineering with robotics, and web development. But coding is foundational. Not vocational. So it's foundational in that it relies on logic and problem solving and creativity, and students learning how to approach problem solving with different -- from different angles.
Carey Peña: President Obama has really been pushing this topic. In January he announced a $4 billion initiative, computer science for all, which seeks to bring computer science, education to many of the nation's public schools. I was fascinated and somewhat shocked that according to the White House, last year alone, more than 600,000 tech jobs were left unfilled across the country. And the White House also points out that the statistics show that girls and minorities are really being left behind.
Seth Beute: That's true. Two years ago in the discussions for the school began, we looked at the demographics for the tech industry, and it was around 30% women, 8% Hispanic, and 7% African-American. And in looking at our district demographics, we're 81% Hispanic, and we're about 50% girls, and we saw this as a natural fit for a small school with a computer science focus and coding in particular. In Phoenix there are a lot of jobs here in Phoenix, at any given moment there are over 10,000 open software development jobs. And we are hoping to provide a pipeline for our students, and really provide opportunities for our students that may not have had elsewhere.
Carey Peña: I think one thing you guys are doing too is part of the movement that's going on across many schools in the country, you're empowering the students to make more of their own decisions, as I understand what you guys offer is four technology pass, software development, networking and engineering, and you say the students, now navigate your course. What are you most interested in?
Seth Beute: Right. Within those four tech strands there's a lot of opportunity for the students to really dictate the type of education they want, and the outcomes they'd like to have. So within software development you could do game design, app development, if it's app, android, IOS, etc., but really, we're looking at the holistic approach to education, so integrate academics, so we want to develop the mind-set through a tech mind-set for the students that the students really learn about the different subjects as they come together through projects, or problems that they're trying to solve, and that way -- and then we bring in coding in the technology as well, so the students aren't left to find their own connections, we help them seat relevance of everything as it comes together.
Carey Peña: I think it's really important to point out to viewers too, you wonder where the money goes in these override elections, and in large part your school is made possible bite money that was allocated by voters in the override election, and you were able to purchase all the equipment. So how is the reception been so far? How many students do you have signed up?
Seth Beute: The reception has been very positive. We're close to 100 students right now. The student population capacity is 400, we're going to start with 100 freshmen or ninth graders and add 100 each year.
Carey Peña: For people listening or watching today, what do you want to leave them with, and how do they get in touch with you guys?
Seth Beute: They can go visit our website, and on the drop-down list is the Phoenix coding academy, so they're welcome to find more information there, they can call us directly and they're welcome to stop in.
Carey Peña: I'm a total tech nerd, so I love this. But for you personally, we only have a few seconds, for you personally how excited are you?
Seth Beute: This is a dream come true for me. I grew up as a tinkerer, playing with computers and video games, and I taught computer and technology for 10 years in the district, and to be a principal at a school focused on technology is very exciting.
Carey Peña: Thank you so much. And that's our show for tonight. Thanks for watching from all of us here at "Horizonte," and your Arizona PBS station. I'm Carey Peña, have a good evening. 13:33:26:28 Captioning Performed By LNS Captioning www.LNScaptioning.com
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In this segment:
Michael Nowakowski: Phoenix City Councilman and Vice President of Communications for Cesar Chavez Foundation, Antonio Bustamante
Also in this episode:
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