Cypress Street mural
The Cypress Street mural by renowned artist Emigdio Vasquez illustrates centuries of Mexican-American history. It is considered a masterwork and a treasured record of local Latino heritage. Chapman University sponsored its restoration in 2016.

César Chávez and the Work of the Non-Essential Among Us Musings from the Dean of the Chapel, Gail Stearns

A colleague recently said to me, It’s humbling to learn you’re not an essential worker, isn’t it?

At times, we do feel powerless. So, what can we do in this unexpected time of COVID-19? I find the language of “call” to be helpful. We hear of people having a religious experience of being called – but even faith traditions say there is more to it than just a momentary call from above.  Discovering a call begins with yourself, as you sense deep within what you are passionate about. Ultimately, your call is validated by the community recognizing your contribution as important to the greater whole.

César Chávez models one who followed his call even through lean times. Chapman University faculty, staff and students held a Memorial Service for César Chávez following his death on April 23, 1993. An article covering the service in the Los Angeles Times said of students in attendance: Some of them had trailed after their parents in protests led by Cesar Chavez. Others had not heard of Chavez at all until recently. At the service, some students became aware of his championing of workers and fair treatment of the poor, and heard for the first time about a move to create a national holiday in his honor. Chapman University has remembered Chávez in a number of ways since then, including the 2013 restoration of El Proletariado de Aztlán on Cypress Street near the Chapman campus. The mural by Emigdio Vasquez depicts Chávez among other figures of import for Chicana/o identity in Orange County. This year, on March 31, his birthday, we observe César Chávez Day, to dedicate ourselves to community service in his honor.

Chávez was motivated to mobilize for justice for workers by his Catholic faith within the historic moment in which he lived. Right now, it is the extraordinary time we are living in that calls us forth. I see discernment in people heeding a call to serve – in Chapman students, knowing your calling to a vocation may depend upon continuing studies now, even under difficult circumstances. I see it in our faculty, while, even though you are not deemed essential as on-campus workers, are working long hours to revamp and revise and stay in touch with students, teaching courses in innovative ways. I see it in elementary school teachers and staff across our country who, within a matter of days, are figuring out how to teach on-line, produce worksheets for children without internet access, and get meals to children living with food insecurity. I see it in medical workers learning to do their work wearing protective gear under extreme conditions, and in people calling for and creating safety nets for persons who are out of work.

What are you called to today? Reflect upon how you serve, do, and be, and know that as you discern your calling, you benefit others. We are interconnected. You are essential.

Raisin Reflection

And if you have one, eat a grape or a raisin (or any morsel of food – chocolate made of beans from cacao trees works), and try this reflection. Eating mindfully helps us center, reflect, and remember the essential workers who make our sustenance possible.

Hold the raisin gently (wash your hands first!). Close your eyes a moment, and think about where this raisin came from. First, there was soil, a seed, water, sunlight, a farmer’s hands to tend a growing vine. A farmworker may have picked the grape and set it on a screen in the sun to dry. Let your imagination go – think of the dozens and dozens of people involved in the packaging of this raisin with others into boxes, loading and driving the truck, those who fueled the truck, unloaded the boxes, and loaded them onto a grocery shelf.

With gratitude, return to your senses: note the coolness, warmth, or stickiness of the raisin as you hold it in your hand. Bring the raisin to your nose and experience the scent, then notice texture as you roll it around in your mouth, the burst of sensation of sound and flavor when you bite into it, and the aftertaste once swallowed. When you no longer taste the raisin, take a breath, and open your eyes.

We remember our interconnectedness with earth, sun, rain, and human beings across the globe, with just one bite of awareness.


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