Alejandro Chavez is not only the grandson of renowned Mexican-American civil rights activist and labor movement leader Cesar Chavez, but a civil rights leader and organizer in his own right. He has organized demonstrations to support citizenship for immigrant essential workers, served as plaintiff in the 2019 Supreme Court case against the controversial citizenship question proposed for the most recent U.S. Census, and continues his grandfather’s legacy by advocating for farm worker rights.
Alejandro Chavez sat down with ParentsTogether’s Mckenna Saady to talk about the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month, and how families of all backgrounds can get involved. He also talked about what his own Chicano heritage means to him and his family, and how Hispanic culture is integral to our identity as Americans.
Continuing the Chavez Legacy
Chavez broke down some valuable lessons he learned from his grandfather, both as a family role model, and a movement leader. He explained, “I always think of myself as a community servant and that’s because of him.”
He also learned to take pride in his background and culture. “Being Chicano, coming from a working class family, being the grandson of a farm worker—that is a good thing. There’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in remembering where you came from.”
Chicano people are folks of Mexican descent who were born in the United States. As Chavez explains, “A Chicano is somebody from Mexican culture who was born in America, who doesn’t speak Spanish (like I don’t), but strongly identifies with Latino culture and heritage.”
Chavez continues to honor his grandfather’s legacy by encouraging his own children to embrace their Chicano roots—sending them lots of positive messages about things like their names, hair, or other traits that are associated with their Hispanic heritage.
He encourages other folks to carry on the work of Cesar Chavez by dedicating themselves to his values of equality and empathy in their own families. “Have you and your children talked about other people in their class who might be suffering? Have you talked about things they may say, or things you may see on TV that may not be ok. I can’t talk enough about how much needs to be done at home with the children and families you have, because if you’re doing it at home, people feel more comfortable doing it out in the world.”
Hispanic and Chicano Culture & Family
When asked what he loves most about being Chicano, Chavez spoke on the beauty of people of color, and why he thinks it’s important to frequently reinforce that idea with his own children, who are also half-Black. “I think Black is beautiful, I think brown is beautiful, so I use those terms because our skin is beautiful. We are beautiful people.”
He also mentioned Chicano art and music as sources of pride, as well as the representations of Hispanic culture in lots of other cultures—especially here in the United States. As Chavez puts it, “Our words, our language, the streets we drive on, the foods we eat are all linked to Hispanic heritage.”
A surprising example is the cowboy—often thought of as a quintessentially American figure—which actually originated from the Mexican vaquero. Here are some more examples of things that come from Hispanic culture that you can explore with your kids this month:
- Place names— Tons of places in the United States have names with Hispanic origins. Your state could even be one of them! Colorado, Montana, Nevada, and Utah are just a handful.
- English words— Alligator, chocolate, and hurricane are just a few examples of the many English words that come from Spanish. Check out this list with your kids and see how many of these words you’ve already said today!
- Color TV— The first color TV was patented by Guillermo González Camarena, a Mexican inventor!
- The dollar sign— The most popular theory behind the origin of the U.S. dollar sign ($) is that it was derived from the symbol for the Spanish peso (₱).
Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month
According to Chavez, the most important reason to honor Hispanic Heritage Month is because of how deeply ingrained Hispanic culture is in the United States. Whether your family identifies as Hispanic or not, it’s more than likely that you interact on some level every day with Hispanic culture. He encourages folks of all backgrounds to think of this month as less about celebrating and more about giving “respect to the culture that you take part in and participate in all year long.”
Here are some ways that Chavez recommends you honor Hispanic Heritage Month with your own family:
- Try new foods— You can cook a new Hispanic dish for your family and learn together about it’s history—or, Chavez urges families to support locally owned, authentic restaurants when they can. Ask questions (respectfully) and try something you’ve never had before!
- Experience art and music— Look up Hispanic art and music as a family and see what stands out to you. Even better—find local artists and musicians to support!
- Research role models— There are SO many important figures from Hispanic and Latino history that can inspire your family! Do an internet search with your kids. Chavez recommends looking up Mexican-American women of the Revolution as a good starting point.
Hispanic Heritage Month is a great opportunity to become more aware of the ways that Hispanic culture is so deeply important to our everyday lives in the United States, no matter our identity.
For the full transcript of the interview, click here.
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