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Prevention Institute E-Alert: March 24, 2016

PI Director Elva Yañez reflects on Chávez’s influence on her work in health equity

On March 31st, millions will celebrate César Chávez Day, honoring Chávez’s accomplishments on behalf of the disenfranchised, and the influence he has had on other social justice crusaders. Our country has made enormous progress toward equity, yet we also know that ongoing exposure to racism, discrimination, and lack of opportunity still exert a toll on millions of Americans. 

In an op-ed published today in New America Media, PI Director Elva Yañez describes how the lessons she learned from César’s life and the farm worker movement translated into a career working to improve the community conditions that influence health and wellbeing. As the director of PI’s health equity work based in our L.A. office, Elva is devoted to upholding Chávez’s social justice values and to promoting authentic engagement, rigorous policy development, and a public health approach.

Elva writes in her op-ed:

Like many children, I was heavily influenced by my mother, and her love and appreciation for César  became deeply ingrained in me.  One of my first volunteer experiences was for the UFW union as a high school student. After school I rode my bike to the union’s headquarters, also on Whittier Blvd. in East L.A., where I typed, filed, and listened to the stories of Joe Serda, who traveled the country as an organizer for the grape boycott…. The story of César’s influence on my life is not a unique one. His legacy as one of the greatest “activist incubators” of our times is well deserved, as he helped transform so many of the young activists that worked with and for him into veteran organizers and longtime strategic visionaries fighting for equality and justice.

Elva illustrates how looking at the root causes across systems to address injustices, and working to change local conditions, can empower communities to ensure safe and healthy lives for their children and families. She concludes with a message of hope and inspiration:

The fight for social justice and equity rages on: we see it in the streets of Baltimore, Ferguson, and Flint; among California farm workers still exposed to pesticides and working in dangerous conditions; and in present day justice movements— including Black Lives Matter, Latino “Dreamers”, Muslim immigrants, and LGBT activists— that demand equal treatment and opportunity under the law. Honoring César’s legacy links us to both historic and contemporary struggles for justice and democracy, and emphasizes the fundamental importance of grassroots organizing in waging effective movements for change. César  Chávez Day reminds us of the importance of having humility, respect, and courage as we work to eliminate inequities and expand fairness and justice in our communities.  ¡Si se puede!

Read the full op-ed at New America Media.

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