Fists pumped in the air, and a rallying cry rang out into the cool spring afternoon: “Sí, se puede!”
The chant, led by Spanish radio personality and keynote speaker Belia Paz, brought guests at the second annual Cesar Chavez Commemoration event just outside the SUB entrance. The event was named after the civil rights activist.
The event, also dubbed “Idaho Latino History Celebration,” honored Chavez with several speakers, Mexican music and the presentation of awards and a scholarship.
“The goal is to make sure that they know it’s really important to keep Spanish alive; our culture, our music alive,” said Paz, a prominent activist and media figure in the Idaho Latino community. “Make noise. Take action. Don’t just sit back and watch.”
The Zeta Eta chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha, Idaho State’s Latina sorority, hosted the celebration.
Members kicked off the event with a welcoming address, then passed the microphone to Ram Eddings, Diversity Resource Center Coordinator.
Eddings praised civil rights leaders of the 1960s and recognized the importance of celebrating Latino culture and its influence on Idaho’s history.
“We are all omitted out of history … So many times people try to say that people of color have done nothing. Yes we have. We’ve done a lot,” he said. “Idaho is here because of the Latino people who came here in the 1800s and started a community.”
After Eddings’ speech, Lambda Theta Alpha presented corridos, a form of narrative song in Spanish.
The corridos communicated the experience of living as a Latino in America, particularly as a farm worker.
Andres Guerra, a government worker, journalist and prominent community activist, introduced Paz, the event’s keynote speaker.
Paz’s father met Chavez, and her uncle helmed the successful effort to name a street on campus after the labor leader. Paz also met with Dolores Huerta, who founded the National Farm Workers Association with Chavez, five times.
After Guerra’s introduction, Paz led the audience in the “Sí, se puede!” chant, inviting them to follow her to the Cesar Chavez entrance. The group stood together, chanting and clapping, then returned inside to hear Paz’s address.
The media personality and activist, who is relocating to Salt Lake City to manage a new slew of Spanish stations, spoke of her charity work and the necessity of Latino representation on boards and in leadership.
She brought Lambda Theta Alpha members to the front of the room and asked each one what difference they wanted to make in their lives.
Answers included providing healthcare to underprivileged Latino communities, helping others realize their potential and being an example to other Latinos.
“You can be a Cesar Chavez, and you can make a difference,” Paz said. “Let’s keep our Latino heritage alive.”
The sorority presented faculty recognition awards to advisor Guillermo Raya and TRiO director Sari Byerly before Global Studies and Languages professor Carmen Febles announced the six recipients of high school achievement awards.
One recipient, Georgette Cardiel of Blackfoot, also received the first scholarship awarded by the sorority. Cardiel read her scholarship essay, written in Spanish, about her experience of being a Latina in Idaho.
“The fact that we can make this possible with the connections in the community really makes a difference—highlighting those high school students and their abilities to be leaders, giving them that nudge to go forward,” said Jasmine Melendez, Lambda Theta Alpha president. “A lot of people don’t take the time to sit down with a child and say, ‘You’ve got this, and you can make a difference.’”