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