Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Chicano activist discusses educational philosophies

By Mary Ann AlbrightGazette-Times reporter
Tuesday, November 15, 2005

When famed Chicano activist, writer and director Luis Valdez met with students at Oregon State University’s Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez, he had plenty of stories to share about the center’s namesake.

“He was the first guy I ever followed anywhere,” said Valdez of Chavez, whom he first met at age six and knew as “CC.”

Cesar Chavez was an agrarian labor leader who helped improve conditions for migrant workers through unionization and protest.

[Pictured Above]
TIFFANY BROWN/Gazette-Times Playwright and activist, Luis Valdez talks to students about his experiences growing up as a migrant worker in California and his friendship with Cesar Chavez, seated next to his wife, Luis, Tuesday morning at Oregon State University’s Centro Cultural Cesar Chavez.

Valdez visited OSU Tuesday, attending classes and meeting and dining with student groups before giving a presentation that evening at the LaSells Stewart Center on his educational philosophies.

Students, faculty and staff alike had plenty of questions for Valdez when they gathered in OSU’s small white house dedicated to Chicano, Latino and Hispanic American culture and heritage.

Valdez, who sat next to Lupe, his wife of 36 years, fielded queries about his childhood as a migrant worker in California, his membership in Chavez’s United Farm Workers Union and his development of El Teatro Campesino, a theatrical troupe founded on the strike lines during California’s 1965 table grape strike.

Teatro Campesino will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year.

“We believe in survival, a kind of longevity. The work spans several generations. It’s not going to be done in one lifetime,” Valdez said.

Valdez also touched on current immigration policies, the longstanding effects of colonization on minorities in the United States and how to be an effective radical or activist while still working within given social and legal constraints.

Outside of his activist role, Valdez is perhaps best known as the writer and director of the films “Zoot Suit,” which focused on the zoot-suit riots of 1940s Los Angeles and “La Bamba,” which chronicled the life of singer Ritchie Valens.

Yecenia Martinez, an OSU senior majoring in ethnic studies, has seen both movies. She’s also read Valdez’s play “Los Vendidos,” and was excited to speak with someone who brought the stories of her heritage to life.

“My family’s background is farming, so that’s part of why I’m interested in his work. It gave farm workers opportunities to say what’s going on and how they felt about injustices going on in the labor and work forces,” she said.

Valdez acknowledged the challenges of translating the Chicano experience into English, but said he felt a sense of duty to try.

“I thought it was important for someone to start writing our history and stories down,” he said.

Jose Antonio Orosco, OSU assistant professor of philosophy, appreciated the chance to meet the man whose movies inspired him during childhood, and who played such an influential role in the Chicano civil rights movement.

“I remember as a kid going to see ‘Zoot Suit’ in Albuquerque and being totally enthralled — the music, the story, the glamour of the film was incredible. (Valdez) has turned the experience and history of Mexican Americans into narratives that can dazzle and awe, but also teach and make us aware of people and communities that have contributed to society and aren’t usually acknowledged for their effort,” he said.

Mary Ann Albright covers higher education. She can be reached at
maryann.albright@lee.net or 758-9518.

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