'Witness' glimpse into personal life of Chávez

By Susan Bonicillo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 8, 2005

Take a walk around campus and you're bound to see a building named after someone important, someone long dead or a combination of the two.

Yet for most of us, these names are nothing more than just a name, and the lives of these men and women are unknown.

Tomorrow, however, presents a rare opportunity to learn more about one these people and know that there is a story behind the name.

César E. Chávez, the name that now adorns the former Economics building, was one of the nation's most important leaders in terms of civil rights, labor issues and environmental awareness. His humble beginnings as the son of migrant workers and his formal education that ended at the eighth-grade level belied his future work as the most prominent leader of the migrant-worker movement to rub shoulders with notables like Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

In a double effort to remember Chávez and to reacquaint a new generation unfamiliar with his work, the Union Gallery and the College of Humanities Media Democracy Policy Initiative are presenting the photo documentary "Witness: César E. Chávez and the United Farm Workers Movement: 1975-1979."

The photographs are by Cathy Murphy, a Bisbee native. Handpicked by Chávez himself, Murphy's collection details the work of the United Farm Workers, highlighting the 1,000 Mile March along the farmlands of California as well as personal glimpses into Chávez's life.

"He was charismatic. You could see the impact on people who knew him, that when you were talking to him ... you were talking to someone who was an important part of history, even when he was alive," said Olga Briseno, director of MDPI and personal acquaintance of Chávez. As a reporter for the San Diego Union Tribune, Briseno covered the last years of his life.

Murphy was ordered by the Chávez family not to exhibit the photographs until after Chávez's death and only by permission by the family even after that, said Chrissy Lieberman, Campus Activities and Union Galleries coordinator and one of the organizers of the event.

"The galleries around campus have a commitment not only to represent fine art but also the current issues that continue to impact the Southwest region," Lieberman said.

The opening reception, tomorrow from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., will feature keynote speakers, including Murphy, and will include a special outreach program for visiting school groups from kindergarten to sixth grade.

In addition to this, every Thursday the Union Gallery will present a documentary about issues that affect the Southwest, such as labor, civil rights and the plight of the migrant worker.

The exhibit is open to the public at the Union Gallery, located on the third floor of the Student Union Memorial Center. It is available for viewing Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. "Witness" will run until Oct. 8. Entrance is free.