San Benito High School senior, Jasmine Bonilla-Hernandez, was recently named a recipient of the California Teacher Association (CTA) 2016-17 César E. Chávez Memorial Education Awards Program.
Open to students in first through 12th grade, the contest featuring submissions in both the written word and visual arts, “provides recognition to students and their teachers who demonstrate an understanding of the vision and guiding principles” of the late, union organizer, according to the association’s website.
CTA serves its membership from four regional offices throughout the state. San Benito County’s unit members belong to Region 1. Contest submissions were made by sponsoring CTA members on behalf of their students. Recipients were then selected to represent each region.
Bonilla-Hernandez’s award-winning collage features a black and white downloaded image of a smiling Chávez. Done in pastel are two, unfurled flags: a Mexican flag to Chávez’s left and an American one to his right. In the background stands the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) signature black eagle. Two outstretched arms extending from the margins and blended with charcoal meet in a firm handshake at the canvas’ center. The UFW’s rallying-cry, “¡Si Se Puede!” (Yes, it is possible!), is emblazoned in bold, white lettering on gold-colored ribbon banner near the bottom of the work.
Though the Advanced Placement art student cannot recall the name of her piece, she matter-of-factly articulated its message.
“It’s about people coming together, not separating from each other. It’s about people seeing us, Latinos, the same as they see themselves,” Bonilla-Hernandez stated in an interview with BenitoLink.
The 2016 presidential election and its outcome served as her inspiration.
“It affected me a lot," she said. "Seeing that many people are now scared to go to their jobs or to school. And because people decided to start being a lot more racist and they think it’s OK. My point is that it’s not,” she said.
Her art teacher for the past three years, John Robrock, explained in a telephone interview with BenitoLink that what distinguishes Bonilla-Hernandez’s artwork is the emphasis she places on “her background, life, and culture.”
Robrock encouraged Bonilla-Hernandez to enter the last year’s competition, but she missed the deadline.
He admitted this time his approach was much different.
“I harassed her all the way to the deadline,” Robrock joked.
He received confirmation this week that his student had won.
In addition to her first place honors, Bonilla-Hernandez earned a certificate and $550 cash prize. Her collage will be on display at the CTA’s headquarters in Burlingame for a year, too.
And Robrock’s secret to nurturing award-winning talent?
“Find something the student is familiar and has strength in and then work and develop it,” he said.
As the sponsoring CTA member who submitted the work, Robrock also received $550.
Bonilla-Hernandez said that learning of her award the same week that California celebrates her role-model is significant. Friday, March 31 marked César Chávez Day, a state holiday.
“He [Chávez] showed me that, ‘¡Si se puede!,’” she said of the man who led the farmworkers’ movement, adding, “I am very proud to have won and it makes me feel I can do way more.”