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Students’ Mock Protest Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Walking in a wide circle and signs held high, excited Kindergarten through fifth grade students at Caruthers Elementary school, at 11th and Waverly in Kansas City, Kansas held a mock protest in honor of Cesar Chavez and Hispanic Heritage month.

Students pounded their feet on the black asphalt playground as they carried signs protesting unfair wages and shouted “Si, se puede” and “Huelga” outside the elementary school last week.

Yadirs Hernandez was happy to be outside on the playground protesting for a good cause. She felt it was an important lesson she learned about Chavez and the migrant workers.

“I learned how they were treated badly and they were not given equal pay or clean water.”

Third grade teacher Lisa Young has organized the mock protest for the past ten years. When she first started the project, she had two classes that participated but today it is a school-wide event. She also invites parents to participate and hopes that next year community members will join with them to celebrate Hispanic Heritage month.

Young uses the story of Cesar Chavez to show students that problems can be resolved through words and not violence. Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, all the teachers at the school chose a theme that related to Chavez’s work and life.

“I want the children to learn about their history and show them that Cesar Chavez was an activist who turned an injustice in society to a positive outcome by using his words not violent actions,” said Young.

She found the book, Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez and uses it as a learning tool for the classrooms every year.

“After reading the story, I began to think that my class could learn from this. We could make signs and we could stage a protest like he did to help the migrant farm workers,” said Young.

Young has the students re-enact Chavez 1965, 340-mile peaceful protest march. While the students march around the playground is not as long as Chavez’s, they do walk long enough to give them the idea of the steps Chavez and the protesters walked and how their combined voices made a difference.

Getting ready for the mock protest, teachers and students discussed key words like empathy and compassion.

“They have empathy for how the people were treated. Even our kindergarten kids understand that it was wrong,” said Young.

Many of the students at Caruthers Elementary are bilingual. Young related to the students how a young Cesar Chavez was not allowed to speak Spanish in school and if he did, he was teased and bullied for speaking a different language.

“We talked about, ‘what if I heard you speaking Spanish and I became mad because you did? Then I made you stop speaking Spanish, that wouldn’t be right would it?’ They can understand what it would feel like if we said ‘no Spanish’ to them,” explained Young.
“I hope that by doing this and showing them that one man was able to resolve an injustice with words and not violence, that it can inspire them to learn to do the same,” she said.