WMU News

Former White House staffer helps WMU honor Cesar Chavez

March 20, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- The former deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton will be on campus this month to help Western Michigan University celebrate the birthday of farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez.

Maria Echaveste, currently a Washington D.C.-based attorney and consultant, will speak about Chavez, activism and her West Wing experiences at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 27 in Rooms 157-158 of the Bernhard Center. The free public talk is a precursor to Cesar Chavez Day and is being sponsored by WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs, American Studies Program and Rural Health Education Program.

Chavez was born March 31, 1927, and died April 23, 1993. He founded the National Farm Workers Association, now the United Farm Workers of America, which was the nation's first successful farm workers union. Communities across the country set aside March 31 as a day to celebrate Chavez's life, ideals and more than 30 years of leadership and nonviolent struggle to improve civil rights and working conditions for migrant farm laborers.

Echaveste was born in Texas and educated in California, where she earned a bachelor's degree from Stanford University and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley. She began her career as a corporate attorney for firms in Los Angeles and New York.

In 1993, she joined the Clinton administration as wage-and-hour administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor and was charged with directing the department's anti-sweatshop efforts as well as managing and setting policy for federal labor and contracting laws.

Echaveste was named the White House director of public liaison in 1997 and a year later, became the top-ranking Latina in the federal government when she was tapped to serve as deputy chief staff. The position, which she held until founding her own public policy, strategy and advocacy firm in 2001, placed her at the forefront of advancing the president's domestic agenda.

In addition to coordinating both foreign and domestic federal disaster relief activities within the White House, her responsibilities included managing policy initiatives and developing legislation and communications strategies for administration issues in areas such as immigration, trade, education, AIDS and Africa, civil rights, and Latin America.

For more information about Echaveste or Cesar Chavez Day, call Miguel Ramirez, coordinator of Latino programs in WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs, at (269) 387-3329.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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