Published: April 9, 2016 By

If you happened to drive by Sanchez International Elementary School in Lafayette on Saturday afternoon, you would have noticed a big, yellow bouncy castle out front, as well as a 1970s van painted black with white, intricate designs. If curiosity led you inside, you’d be welcomed by the smell of authentic Mexican food, upbeat music, and people of all ages gathered together in celebration.


A woman from Natural Highs, a Boulder-based organization that provides education on alternatives to drugs and alcohol, shares with attendees the organization's work.

This is not the typical scene you would expect to find at an elementary school on a Saturday.

However, for Elaina Verveer and the young people of the Lafayette Youth Advisory Committee, a community gathering with food, artwork, and activities is surely no uncommon occurrence. In the past twelve years, Lafayette has hosted a Cesar Chavez celebration to honor his life, legacy, and advocacy. For the past six years of the event’s existence, the committee composed of the city’s young people has spearheaded the event.

Cesar Chavez was a civil rights activist who advocated for the rights of Hispanic workers beginning in the 1950s. Chavez was most famous for founding the National Farm Workers Association (later known as United Farm Workers), a group that led marches and protests to fight for higher wages and better working conditions for Mexican-American people. His partner, Dolores Huerta, though not as well-known as Chavez, co-founded the organization.

Verveer, the program advisor of the youth committee, believes observing the work of Chavez and Huerta goes hand-in-hand with empowering young people.

“For me, the event is used as a vehicle to consider multiple social justice issues, and to really applaud young people,” Verveer said. “They may be under 18, and they may not be eligible to vote, but they’ve got capacities that adults simply lack. I think we have a lot to learn from them.”

In years past, the Cesar Chavez Day event was targeted at youth specifically, as it included a march and rally that would happen after school on a Friday. This year, however, the youth committee decided to switch things up for the event to be more accessible to the entire community. Instead of a rally, the committee planned a convivio – or gathering – with things to do for kids and adults alike.

“In addition to honoring Cesar Chavez, we wanted to use this year’s event as a way to build community, particularly within East Lafayette, which is primarily families who identify as Latino,” Verveer said. “These are families who otherwise may not be able to or may not feel welcome to participate in a community event, particularly one that is city-sponsored.”

For the younger crowd, crafts and activities were available; most notably, every kid’s dream fulfilled with the presence of an inflatable jumping house. For parents, various community groups held informational workshops on topics such as the health effects of marijuana, and how to navigate sending their child to college and managing financial aid.

Beyond activities, the convivio served as a gallery for advocacy groups composed of young people in the area to make their voices heard. Representatives from the Lafayette Peer Empowerment Project (“La PEP), Public Achievement (PA), and Latinos In Full Action (LIFE) came with artwork, petitions, and information to gain community support and hold discussions that mattered to them.

Some aspects of the event, such as a Mexican cuisine, a Zumba workout, and an old van transformed into a mobile art museum, brought people of all ages together, a theme that was common throughout the entire event. Despite differences of age, ethnicities, political backgrounds, and agendas, attendees were encouraged to listen, learn, and become empowered. Kern Shahi, a junior at the University of Colorado, values the event because of the platform it provides for marginalized people.

“It [the Cesar Chavez event] allows people in the community who are usually unheard and unseen to have a voice, and to express their stories and their views on how to move forward in America.”

While the convivio contained elements that could be viewed as political, such as an elementary school group collecting signatures to protest Donald Trump’s campaign, Verveer and the Lafayette Youth Advisory Committee aim to simply create space for discussions about some of America’s most pressing issues, such as immigration.

MiaBella DiFiore, a senior at Centaurus High School, is proud of the progress that has been made in the Lafayette community, particularly with the Lafayette Youth Advisory Committee.

“When I first joined [the committee] in seventh grade, it was pretty non-diverse,” DiFiore said. “Through advocacy and reaching out to marginalized groups, we have more Latinos this year than we have had in the past. This event really matters to them, and it really matters to the committee that we have people who truly connect with the event.”

Though the times of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta may have passed, the momentum of fighting for civil rights and making all people’s voices heard is sustained throughout the community of Lafayette.