Cesar Chavez blood drive raises awareness of Latino actvisim

Christie Kerner and Christie Kerner

A national event will bring recognition to the University’s work with Latino students and raise awareness about the activist Cesar E. Chavez.

The National Cesar E. Chavez Blood Drive Challenge will take place for the first time at the University from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday in the Union Ballroom.

Over 100 Universities will participate in the national competition, with Bowling Green State University and Ohio State University representing the state of Ohio.

“The main purpose [of the event] is to save lives and raise awareness about Chavez and what he did,” aid Samantha Pena, vice president of the Latino Student Union.

Bowling Green Mayor John Quinn will speak at Wednesday’s event at noon, as well as the former Chairman of Ohio Latino Affairs, Richard Romero.

As a student in the late 1970s, Romero was surprised about the small percentage of Latino students at the University when he and a group of students decided to protest the University. The protest would make national news.

“Students took over the President’s office,” Romero said. “I left the protest to perform in a play, and when I came back they [the students] were already arrested.”

Chavez sent a lawyer to represent the students at the trial.

“There’s a tie with Cesar Chavez and Bowling Green State University,” Romero said. “He reached out to many Latino students in the 70s, and we were one of the groups he reached out to.”

As a result, administrators met with students to put together an event to aggressively bring more Latino students to the University.

“It went from one extreme to another,” Romero said. “As a state commissioner, I gave an award to BGSU for having one of the largest percentages of Latino students by any state university in Ohio.”

Quinn will present President Carol Cartwright and the University with the award for the University’s work with Latino students in retention, student programming and more.

March 31 will also be proclaimed Cesar Chavez Day in Bowling Green.

Chavez was forced to quit school in the 8th grade when his father lost his ability to work. While working to support his family he learned about the injustice and bad treatment of farm workers.

“I met him personally and I was extremely impressed with his non-violent approach to justice,” Romero said.

Students planning the blood drive have had direct connections with the needs and activism Chavez fought for.

Pena grew up hearing stories from her father’s experiences in Mexico and his move to the United States to work in the fields.

“I’ve always been passionate about Latino issues,” Pena said.

Pena’s father lived in difficult conditions in Mexico until he became a migrant worker in Ohio, where the conditions were still harsh, but good in comparison.

The Latino civil rights movement has fought for clean drinking water, rest periods, protective clothing and health benefits. These are many things a lot of us take for granted, Pena said.

LSU looks to bring awareness to the University on Latino issues and to the Mexican American Cesar Chavez who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association.

“In high school, we learn so much about African American civil rights movements, which is great, but it’s disappointing to me that we don’t learn much about Latino civil rights movements,” Pena said.

Planning committee member Lauren Higgins spent her summer working for the Texas Migrant Council as a social worker for 35 families, and described the summer as a kind of catalyst for her activism.

“What I saw in the fields when we would go talk to the families was not too pleasing,” Higgins said. “All they wanted was water, a place to go to the bathroom and safe working conditions.”

LSU hopes more students learn about what Chavez did and the struggles people in migrant work face.

“We want people to come [and] donate blood, but we want people to know why we’re doing a blood drive,” planning committee member Lauryn Vargas said. “There’s a meaning behind it in honor of Cesar Chavez and his activism.”

People can register to donate at lifesharedonor.org using the code name BGSU, and anyone who donates will receive a free Chipotle burrito.

“Chavez gave his entire life to help workers that were treated unfairly,” Romero said. “If he was able to give up his life to improve the life of those who were struggling, then we should all be able to honor him by donating a pint of blood.”