United Farm Workers president Arturo Rodriguez stopped by Planada on Wednesday night to speak to graduates at Cesar E. Chavez Middle School about the importance of continuing their education, and using that education to give back to their community.
Rodriguez is a veteran farm labor organizer who became the second president of the UFW in 1993, after the death of civil rights activist and UFW founder Cesar Chavez.
Rodriguez, a Texas native, recalled a time when he marched alongside Chavez on the streets of Planada. To come back and speak to the community that once offered him shelter and food, he said, was an honor.
“In Cesar’s office are hundreds of books on many subjects, from history and biography to economics and management to art and literature. He read them all,” Rodriguez told students. “Just as Cesar read constantly to educate himself, you, too, must continue to read and explore what the world has to offer.”
“Through 31 years of leading the United Farm Workers, Cesar also looked for ways to help educate others,” he added. “You, too, continue to help others; by continuing your education you can help your community, parents, and your younger brothers and sisters.”
Rodriguez has worked to increase UFW membership and is known for pushing legislation on immigration reform and worker rights. He dared students to dream, and used the thousands of young immigrants across the nation who fight for their rights, known as DREAMers, as an example of perseverance.
Rodriguez told students that the key to success is believing in oneself and passing that belief onto others, just as Chavez did.
“Cesar said his job as an organizer was helping ordinary people do extraordinary things,” Rodriguez said. “He made everyone in the movement believe the job he or she was doing was important, whether you were an attorney or a cook. He made people believe in themselves. Those whom almost no one considered very important, he gave them faith to face the challenge and overcome great odds.”
Rodriguez was invited to Planada by Katrina Rodriguez, no relation, a native of the community and a student at Humboldt State University. She met the UFW president when he presented at the university for its Centennial Speaker Series earlier this year. Katrina’s father, David Rodriguez, serves as president of the Planada Elementary School District Board of Education, and was in charge of having Arturo Rodriguez make an appearance at this year’s graduation.
“I sent him (Arturo Rodriguez) an email after meeting him, and when he responded I turned it over to my dad,” Katrina explained. “I just thought it’d be a great opportunity for young students to learn more about the history behind the name of their school, and hopefully that was the case.”
Idelfonso Nava, principal at Cesar E. Chavez Middle School, said Arturo Rodriguez was the perfect person to close the school year.
“Here is a man who walked side by side with the legendary Cesar Chavez,” Nava said. “It was great for someone of his caliber to come to speak to our students, especially being that our school is named after Cesar,” Nava said.
In April, students and staff made a trip to the movie theater to watch the 2014 biopic “Cesar Chavez” and learned enough about the UFW to appreciate Arturo Rodriguez’s presence, Nava said.
“I think Arturo’s speeches, both in English and Spanish, really resonated with a lot of our audience being that we still have some farmworkers here in Planada,” Nava added. “Some of our parents and grandparents were around during Cesar’s time and played a role in the farmworkers movement, so to bring Arturo Rodriguez was a big deal for us.”