PIQUA — Scholar and actor Fred Blanco took to the stage at Fountain Park’s Hance Pavilion on Wednesday evening during the ongoing Ohio Chautauqua performances.
In what Ohio Humanities Council Program Coordinator Erin Jansen described as being like a play in three acts, Blanco performed as Cesar Chavez, a human rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers labor movement, prior to answering audience questions both in and out of character.
Blanco’s performance to the crowd was a nostalgic speech relating Chavez’s life experiences as if they were his own, including Chavez’s life growing up in Yuma, Arizona.
“Memories are very important to us … we use the memories to train ourselves and train our families,” Blanco said.
Blanco discussed Chavez’s love of learning and contrasted that with Chavez’s distaste for school due to the cultural bias he experienced there. In school, Chavez was forced to speak only English and was punished for speaking Spanish with slaps on the hands or wrists or being forced to wear a sign that read, “I am a clown. I speak Spanish.”
Chavez was mostly self-taught after leaving school after the eighth grade so he could help support his family as a full-time migrant farm worker.
Blanco recalled Chavez’s first moment of civil disobedience when he and his future wife, Helen Fabela, were arrested after refusing to move out of a whites-only section in a local movie theater.
“We just sat there and kept watching the movie,” Blanco said. He said that “segregation was not a law, but an unwritten rule” and that there were “signs warning Mexicans not to go to certain places.”
In 1946, Chavez joined the U.S. Navy and served for two years. Chavez would go on to become the national director of the Community Service Organization (CSO) in 1958. From that organization, which fought poverty in Latino neighborhoods, Chavez learned community organizing skills that he and Dolores Huerta would utilize when founding the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), which later became the United Farm Workers (UFW), in the 1960s.
Chavez was also well-known for his nonviolent protests and civil disobedience. Chavez and the NFWA supported the Filipino-American farm workers who began the Delano grape strike for higher wages in September 1965. A few months after that, Chavez and the NFWA led a strike of California grape pickers, also for higher wages, which included a march from Delano to Sacramento in California. The strike also lasted five years.
Chavez also took to fasting as a form of protest, including a 25-day fast in 1968 “to rededicate” his movement to nonviolence, according an Ohio Chautauqua timeline booklet. He also fasted in 1972 after Arizona adopted legislation to prohibit strikes during harvests, and for 36 days in 1988 to protest the use of pesticides on farms.
Chavez passed away in April 1993, and posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.
More to come
The Ohio Chautauqua evening performances will continue at Hance Pavilion each evening from today until the final performance on Saturday evening. The doors open and music begins at 6:15 p.m. and the characters take the stage at 7:30 p.m. each evening.
On Thursday, the daytime programs include scholar Susan Marie Frontczak’s seminar “Hooked on Humor — Bringing humor to your stories” at 1 p.m. at the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center, 301 W. Main St., Troy, for adults. Fred Blanco will return for his seminar on the Zoot Suit Riots at 2 p.m. at Edison State Community College, 1973 Edison Drive, Piqua, which will also be for adults.
On Thursday evening, scholar Dr. Sally Ann Drucker will portray Betty Friedan, who is noted for sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century, according to the Miami County Visitor’s Bureau. Friedan was also the co-founder and first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
Acoustic Friends will perform prior to Drucker’s portrayal of Friedan.
On Friday, scholar Jeremy Meier will discuss Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy at noon at the Piqua Public Library, for youth. Drucker will also return to talk about women in advertising media at 2 p.m. at the Piqua YWCA, 418 N. Wayne St., Piqua, which will be for adults.
In the evening, scholar Dr. J. Holmes Armstead will portray Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Davis was an American United States Air Force general and commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen and the first African American general officer in the United States Air Force. Some of his missions included escorting bombers on air combat missions over Europe.
Music will be provided by the American Kings.
On Saturday, Armstead will discuss “America Emerges as a World Power 1940-1970” at 11 a.m. at the Troy-Miami County Library, 419 W. Main St., Troy, for adults. Frontczak will also return to discuss “Legendary Children’s Stories from the mid-20th Century” at 2 p.m. at the Piqua Public Library, which will be for youth.
On Saturday evening, Meier will portray Robert F. Kennedy, a politician and lawyer from Massachusetts. He managed his brother John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in addition to serving as attorney general and junior senator from New York.
Music will be provided by the Piqua Civic Band.
Reach Sam Wildow at email@example.com