Aula Máxima es la biblioteca y también lugar de recreo del espíritu.   - José Vasconcelos



Un Poco de Todo/ César Chávez Library dedicated at an Oregon school
Oregon's First César Chávez Library
    Does a library, by another name, smell less dusty?
        March 31, 1999

Libraries in the U.S. tend to carry the names of the neighborhood or school where they sit--the Anytown Public Library. Not a particularly clever convention, but it does satisfy the librarian's rigid sense of order that demands everything be logically classified and in its rightful place.

Although rarely questioned, this is a custom that robs us of a chance to acknowledge and significantly deepen our connections to the community.

Granted, a name is a symbol, one that may mean very little if not accompanied by a program of focused patron services. Yet to members of communities with built-in skepticism or fear of the library, seeing the name of a hero they embrace engraved above the door can be a powerful initial draw, a welcome that defuses suspicion and shyness.

The recognized pantheon of great Hispanic-Americans is large and growing, but there can be little question about who is its most important member. César Chávez, founder of the United Farm Workers union, is acknowledged worldwide as one of the most important and effective labor leaders in modern times.

Chávez was a man of words and of action, an avid reader who drew inspiration and strength from books. After moving through 30 different schools by the time he hit his teens--a pattern not unusual even for today's migrant farmworker children--middle school was as far as Chávez's formal education went. Nonetheless he grew into a man whose ideas about labor, community, and the environment retain significant impact on college campuses, where the man is respected and admired just as he was in the communities of farm laborers where he spent his working life. This humble, softspoken genius was the very model of the self-educated scholar.

What better type of person to lend his name to a library? Indeed, several in California have been rechristened in his honor (including branches in Salinas and Stockton) and in the Spring of 1999 a public school media center became the first public place in the state of Oregon to do so when the Valor Middle School chose Chávez's birth anniversary, March 31, for a festive dedication ceremony that included a speech by daughter Liz Chávez Villarino and the unveiling of a bronze bust of the eponymous hero as the library's centerpiece.

The Valor school is in Woodburn, a small town in the heart of Oregon's heavily agricultural Willamette Valley. The Woodburn School District has the highest percentage of Spanish-speaking students in a state where recent press coverage has severely questioned the way instruction for limited-English learners is handled. The town is also the headquarters of PCUN, Oregon's 4,000-member farmworkers' union that works closely with Chavez's UFW.

The bust of Chávez was sculpted and cast by Woodburn artist Lázaro Ybarra, who donated his time and materials to produce an outstanding work of quiet power, truly an appropriate tribute to a great man. The reception following the unveiling of the piece was festive and happily crowded, with some 300 people in attendance and cameras flashing from all corners of the library.

For more details about the library dedication and other Woodburn School District activities, you may contact José Romero, (503) 981-2712 or Dalia Torres, (503) 981-2751.

More information about César Chávez is readily available on the Web:

César Chávez Institute for Public Policy at San Francisco State University
Brief biography of César Chávez
Libraries for the Future article about the Chávez Library in Salinas, with a link back to an outstanding website


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