Rising out of the fields, “Si se puede,” journeyed from a slogan popularized by Cesar Chavez during the labor struggles of the ’60s to the summer of Obama’s first election campaign. Roughly translated, it means “Yes, we can.”
Cesar Chavez Day was celebrated at St. Cajetan’s Church at the 13th annual Latinx Leadership Summit. The speakers at the summit shared their experiences growing up with a Latinx background in the U.S.
Latinx is a newer term created to release the binary gender roles society has imposed. Much of the summit was built on pushing past traditional roles into more ambitious futures.
The keynote speaker, Simon Silva, is a creative crusader, author and speaker who travels across the country talking about the importance of education and determination.
He came to the U.S. from Mexico when he was just over a year old. When he was young, he worked as a migrant farmer wit
h his father and 10 siblings. Silva was a dreamer, a curious child with a hunger to learn as much as possible.
He explained that his family only gave him the resources they knew. Higher education was out of the question because they had not experienced the opportunity themselves and were unable to inspire their children to do something they knew little about.
Silva knew he was bigger than the proverbial pond his father wanted to keep him in. He saw life as a river passing by and wanted to keep moving with it.
However, like a river, life can be diverted making the path unclear. Sometimes opportunities in life flow like a river in many directions and other times they seems to slow to a single trickle.
“We are all more capable than just one thing and we all come from that,” Silva said. “It limits the capacity of the human mind and the human spirit.”
He spoke of how many young children are held back because of lack of resources, variable experiences and a misconception that they can only be one thing in life. In his case, his family believed in sticking with what they knew.
In order to change that, Silva knew he had to convince his mother to help him. She was a strong woman who, even with an abusive husband, knew how to fight her battles. When Silva’s father attempted to force him into the same pond he was stuck in, his mother fought to give her son a flowing river to journey down.
CCD World Language Professor Paola Allani spoke at the summit and had the same drive to receive higher education.
“Individual strength is what gives communities collective strength,” she said.
Allani told a story about how her high school teacher said she would never go to college because she was an immigrant.
“I just let go of my dream and that was pretty devastating,” Allani said.
Her original community college professor had a very different opinion of her.
“He was sure I could achieve my goal,” Allani said, which was the first time anyone had told her that.
Her dream was to teach language to students but it was not until she pushed her way to college that she actually received support for her dream. Now she teaches Spanish and French and even Italian on occasion.
Speakers weren’t the only part of the event. Two men who wore traditional Aztec garb played handmade drums and led a group of 10-12 people through campus who were also dressed in ceremonial Aztec
clothing. Together, they all danced to the beat of the drums while chanting in unison. Passing students, faculty and staff watched as the marchers commemorated Cesar Chavez by chanting, “si se puede.”
Edelina Burciaga, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at CU Denver, spoke of her experience working with immigrant children who were part of Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, a group of activists created in the aftermath of the DREAM Act’s failure in Congress.
One thing she noticed in many of these young activists was that they were deeply motivated by the sacrifices their parents had made for them. Burciaga was born in the U.S. and grew up with resources
that the other speakers and the DREAM activists never had. She was very appreciative for her education and thankful for what her family taught her.
“I am more grateful for them for teaching me to be proud of who I am and where I come from,” Burciaga said.
Silva explained that the strength of an individual can be greatly impacted by their surroundings and that support is the best way to help anyone thrive. From there, it is up to the individual to decide what to do.
“It doesn’t matter how much you know. The key factor of the 21st century – to be dispensable as an employee and as a leader – is not about having a lot but knowing what to do with what you do have and what you do know,” Silva said.
Unlike a river, people are capable of understanding their full potential. It is just a matter of knowing which way to turn.