By J. Sharon Yee Daily Bruin Senior Staff

Actor Martin Sheen was presented with the first Cesar E. Chavez
Spirit Award Friday at a luncheon celebration honoring the late
labor rights activist on what would have been his 73rd
birthday.

Chavez, one of the nation’s foremost leaders of organized labor
and founder of the National Farm Workers’ Association, practiced
non-violent strikes and pickets to promote higher wages and better
work conditions for farm workers.

Sheen, who was a longtime friend and supporter of Chavez, and is
an activist on behalf of the Latino community, the homeless and
farm workers, accepted the award with gratitude and praised
Chavez’s legacy.

"Cesar was more than a labor rights activist – he was also an
environmentalist and a spiritual leader," Sheen said. "I know if he
were here today, he’d tell students to stay in school, finish and
then serve the world."

Sheen, who can be currently seen on television as the president
of the United States in the NBC series, "The West Wing," also
expressed a desire to "return a blessing" by installing the trophy
at the headquarters for United Farm Workers in central
California.

Mistress of ceremonies Linda Alvarez, a UCLA alumna and
KCBS-Channel 2 news anchor, opened the ceremony by praising
Chavez’s legacy.

"What inspires me and motivates me the most is when I hear of
someone who has a mission, is driven by something he believes in,
and no one exemplified that more than Cesar Chavez," she said.

Joseph Torrenueva, a friend of Sheen for nearly 40 years, talked
about attending an anti-nuclear demonstration with Sheen, at which
both were arrested.

"That is an example of how Martin makes me a better man,"
Torrenueva said. "I once asked Martin why he does the things he
does, and he told me when you die, you have no one to answer for
you except yourself."

Prior to the presentation of the Spirit Award, Reynaldo Macias,
chairman of the Chavez Center for Chicana and Chicano Studies,
which co-sponsored the event with several other campus
organizations, announced the establishment of a scholarship fund
for UCLA undergraduates who have demonstrated a strong commitment
to activism in the Latino community.

Macias spoke about Chavez’s influence in the creation of the
center.

"It is in our work that the spirit of Cesar Chavez is reflected,
and in our students where it lives," he said.

This year, the center has enrolled 1,300 students in 54 academic
courses, which is a 30 percent increase from last year, Macias
said.

Chancellor Albert Carnesale praised the efforts of the center,
which was established two months after Chavez’s death in 1993.

"It has grown in every way, not just in size, but in stature,
its preparation of future leaders, and contribution to the
reputation of the university," Carnesale said.

Notable guests at the luncheon included state senators Hilda
Solis (D-El Monte) and Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), former
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, and
University of Texas at San Antonio President Ricardo Romo.

Solis and Polanco presented a certificate of recognition to
Sheen at the end of the ceremony.

Moises Carlos, associate director of MBA admissions at the
Anderson School at UCLA and attendee at the luncheon, said he was
impressed by the presentation.

"My father worked in the fields, so the struggles Chavez fought
against were also close to my family, and it’s wonderful to see the
progress that’s been made so far," he said. "Sheen’s words were
very inspiring."

Torrenueva summed up the significance of the event in praising
both Chavez and Sheen for their commitment to social justice.

"A true act of manliness is the sacrifice of ourselves for
others in the non-violent struggle for justice," he said. "Those
are words Cesar lived by and words that Martin continues to live
by."