State Representative Tryon Lewis (R-Odessa) filed House Bill 505 yesterday, a piece of legislation that would eliminate an optional state holiday celebrating labor and civil rights Cesar Chavez on March 31. The optional holiday would be replaced with Texas Hispanic Heritage Day on September 16.
Cesar Chavez is a sensitive issue for many Mexican-Americans because earlier this year, members of a Texas State Board of Education working group suggested Chavez be excised from the state's social studies curriculum. Some reviewers were concerned about promoting what they considered to be Chavez's "socialist" political beliefs.
Ultimately, the board opted to keep Chavez in public school textbooks. But the debate ignited anger among some Hispanic Texans who felt, rightly or wrongly, as if their role in Texas history was being watered down by the State Board of Education, whose largest and most cohesive political bloc consisted of socially conservative whites.
"Cesar Chavez is a very important national leader," University of Texas history professor Emilio Zamora told KUT News. Zamora specializes in Mexican-American history. "If we were to poll Mexican-American people throughout the country today, Cesar Chavez would clearly appear at the top of the list of important individuals in their history."
"The legislature ought to spend its valuable time considering issues like the school finance system, redistricting, and such," Zamora said.
Rep. Lewis did not return calls requesting comment.
In an unrelated development, the University of Texas El Paso alerted faculty, staff and students Monday that it would be canceling the Cesar Chavez holiday, reports the El Paso Times.
"Part of the problem is the state limits the number of holidays," said UTEP's vice president Richard Adauto. "We just cannot take every holiday."
It is a strong tradition on campus where 76 percent of the students are Hispanic. UTEP is one of the country's leading sources of college education to Hispanics and has been top-ranked numerous times for offering degrees to large numbers of Hispanics.
Now, the school will not cancel classes to commemorate Chávez, but will continue to have celebrations that span from February to April.