Most non-Spanish speakers do not know the meaning of the phrase “Sí, se puede,” but most people who live in the United States are familiar with President Obama’s first presidential campaign slogan, “Yes, We Can,” which led President Obama to become the first African American President of the United States. Not many people know that President Obama’s slogan, “Yes, We Can” is not original with him. His campaign team borrowed “Yes, We Can” (“Sí, se puede” in Spanish) from the slogan of the great Latino-American farm worker, Cesar Chavez, who, when he was in jail, became the founding father of the national farm workers alliance. Similar to African Americans who are rightly proud of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Latino-Americans consider Cesar Chavez their greatest hero of the late twentieth Century.
“Sí, se puede,” or “Yes, we can” is also the motivational phrase that educators use to encourage students to keep trying. Thus, in San Jose, California, first and second graders from Cesar Chavez Elementary School, wear a crown on their heads with the words, “Sí, se puede” as they walk to the Mexican Heritage center to celebrate the great man’s birthday. This walk commemorates Cesar Chavez, a poor Latino American farmer who worked hard to help organize Latino American fruit pickers. The students’ crowns remind them that they should not deny their heritage or culture, nor do they need to do big things to make their actions meaningful. At their age, all they can do is work hard to fulfill their duties as students.
Although San Antonio and FUCHA schools are located next to this cultural heritage landmark, Cesar Chavez Elementary School’s students are the first to enter the Plaza. Shortly after they arrive, other students from the Alum Rock School District come and begin to fill the empty spaces. When the last students arrive, there are no empty spaces remaining in the Plaza. The Principal of Cesar Chavez School, Mr. Sanchez, opens the ceremony with a few words about Cesar Chavez, the great man whose non-violent strategy was instrumental in dealing successfully with different people holding different points of view. “Non violence” and “Yes We Can” are also the mottos in Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Teachers help students learn to control their anger, learn to express disagreement with gentle words, and learn to walk away when conflict seems imminent. These skills allow problems to be solved peacefully. Practicing non-violence helps individuals control themselves, and remembering the words “Yes We Can,” gives students and teacher a sense of power over their own destinies as they learn.
Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s famous lines from his 1963 speech, “I have a dream...” are known around the world, and his words encouraged people in this country and around the world to share his vision of ethnic equality, pride, and peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, not so many people know about Cesar Chavez’s leadership in forming the United Farm Workers’ Union. Cesar Chavez’s UFWU demanded respect and benefits for farm workers laboring in California, but at its core was, like Dr. King’s message of racial equality, it was an idea with unstoppable momentum with benefit for all agricultural laborers: Europeans, Asians, Africans, and white Americans. While Dr. King’s Civil Rights leadership was a volcano shaking the world, Cesar Chavez’s championing of farm workers was an effective groundswell coming from deep in the fertile ground of California’s central valley. Though Chavez’s movement benefitted workers everywhere, only California, Texas, and Arizona celebrate Cesar Chavez’s birthday. Cesar Chavez is a role model for all ethnic immigrants and working people; his life’s story is motivation for them to pursue their dreams with the phrase, “Yes We Can,” in their hearts.