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Chautauqua highlights labor and civil rights activist

By Michael Harrington • Jun 16, 2019 at 4:46 PM

MILAN — Ohio Chautauqua showed the change that can be brought about by one person’s tenacity with its reenactment of Cesar Chavez.

Chautauqua — an Ohio Humanities program combining performances of historical figures, lectures and live music — actor Fred Blanco portrayed Chavez for the event’s fourth night in Milan.

Chavez was chosen for this year’s tour “Modern Legends” because of his work as a labor leader for farm workers and his advocation for civil rights.

“Cesar is an every man. He became the voice for the farm workers and in a way the voice for everyone,” Blanco said. “He was not only about fairness but also achieving it through nonviolent means. He was someone that everyone could relate to … He was inspirational for many different people.”

Chavez was born to a Mexican-American family in Arizona, but after losing their ranch in the Great Depression they moved to California to become migrant farm workers.

Blanco’s performance touched on how he quit school at a young age to help his family in the fields. His experience as worker led him to becoming a Latino civl rights activist.

He traveled across California giving speeches on workers’ rights and encouraging Mexican-Americans to register to vote. He eventually founded the United Farm Workers with Dolores Huerta.

Chavez continued to advocate for the rights of the Latino community and farm workers through a policy of nonviolence for the rest of his life.

Blanco stepped out of character at the end of the performance and received a standing ovation from the crowd. He then answered questions from the audience beyond the scope of Chavez’s life.

“He kept true to the character and was extremely knowledgable about a movement that a lot of people in this area of the country didn’t know about,” Milan resident Judith Horchler said.

Chautauqua has its final night in Milan Saturday with Jeremy Meier’s portrayal of Robert F. Kennedy, a man who could’ve been president if not for an assassin, at 7:30 p.m. Live music will take place beforehand at 6:30 p.m.

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