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Alfredo Terrazas commemorates César Chávez at UCOP

Alfredo Terrazas invoked the spirit of United Farm Workers Cofounder and President César Chávez, renewing a call for inclusion of all people —particularly underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged students — into the University of California.

The March 29 event marked UCOP’s annual celebration of César Chávez Day, cosponsored by the Latino Staff Association and UCOP Human Resources.

Terrazas is the State of California senior assistant attorney general in charge of the Licensing Litigation Section, where he oversees 100 deputy attorneys general and paralegals in the largest statewide section in the Division of Civil Law. He is also a longtime member of the UC family: an active alum, former president of the California Alumni Association and UC alumni regent emeritus, and an advisory trustee on the UC Berkeley Foundation Board.

“Chávez has near sainthood status,” Terrazas said in describing what the man meant to him personally when he was a Berkeley student from 1970 to 1974. “For him, education was the gateway for the poorest and hardest struggling people in our society to get ahead.”

Terrazas received his B.A. in Spanish in 1974, and his experience on the Berkeley campus clearly made a strong impression on him. It was in the early 1970s, against the backdrop of Vietnam, Patty Hearst, Watergate and the Black Power movement, that Chávez held a series of water-only fasts to draw attention to his non-violent struggle to organize and improve working conditions for poor farmworkers.

“It was an unprecedented time of activism, coming on the heels of the Free Speech and Civil Rights movements,” Terrazas said, adding that Chávez was unusual in his ability to galvanize so many people, including whites, Latinos, religious groups, government and labor representatives, along with Berkeley students like himself.

But the elation of the era — captured by Time Magazine’s 1978 cover feature “It’s Your Turn in the Sun” and promising that the 1980s would be the Decade of the Hispanics — has not fulfilled its promise, Terrazas said.

He summarized demographic trends showing that, while both total and school-age Latino populations are outpacing growth in other ethnic groups, they are falling increasingly behind in educational achievement.

Of the total U.S. population age 25 or older, for example, 30 percent have B.S. degrees, but only 7 percent of Latinos that age have B.S. degrees. In California, causes include not only the state budget crisis in funding public higher education, but also the aftereffects of Prop 209, the 1996 ballot initiative that prohibits consideration of race, sex or ethnicity in student admissions.

“This growing ‘achievement gap’ is the civil rights issue of today, like a modern-day apartheid,” Terrazas said. “It determines who is going to be eligible to go to the premiere California colleges, and it’s going to continue to widen if we don’t address it.”

He suggested several solutions for improving access, including providing graduated financial assistance based on family income and maintaining financial aid for undocumented students, efforts that are strongly supported by the Berkeley campus and throughout the UC system.

“The message of César Chávez rings loud and clear today,” Terrazas said in closing. “Many of you in this room have a calling, and your mission is to continue to work on behalf of these students I have been talking about today.”

Terrazas received his law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law. He has served under several California attorneys general, including George Deukmejian, John Van de Kamp, Dan Lungren, Bill Lockyer, Jerry Brown and Kamala Harris. As a community leader, his volunteer and advocacy work has included service on the boards of the United Way of the Bay Area and the East Bay Community Foundation.

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