Hundreds of people took part in the Cesar Chavez march this past Sunday, where the black eagle of the United Farm Workers [UFW] soared with the "Si Se Puede" chants of the participants.
Written by Alex Garcia, Sun Contributing Writer
Seventeen years after his death, hundreds of people kept the memory of United Farm Workers [UFW] founder Cesar Chavez alive this past weekend during the annual march in his honor through the streets of Mission Hills and Pacoima.
"The goals that Cesar Chavez had are very relevant today. He was committed to improving the lives of working people," said Alex Reza of the Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee, who organized the event, which began at Brand Park and ended at Ritchie Valens Park, where an arts, cultural and science festival followed.
"In the past 20 years or so, in our country, working people have had their wages lose purchasing power and at the same time, we've had Wall Street bankers, the insurance companies, the very wealthy people, they are better off than ever before," added Reza. "To me that's a horrible situation and Cesar Chavez was committed to helping working people.
"Our message is we honor Cesar for the work he did and we believe we can continue with his legacy on behalf of working people, immigration, health care—all those are goals that Cesar would be one hundred percent supporting," said Reza.
Born in Arizona, Chavez grew up in a farm working family that traveled the country following harvest work. Chavez himself worked in the field and knew first-hand the terrible conditions and lack of rights these laborers faced. In the 60s, Chavez founded the UFW and for the rest of his life, until his death in 1993, he sacrificed and advocated on their behalf, using marches, strikes, boycotts and hunger strikes to get his point across.
Actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr. encouraged participants of the march to organize on behalf of farm workers, who are still facing inadequate, poor working conditions.
As is the tradition, Aztec dancers led the Cesar Chavez march that traveled from Brand Park in Mission Hills to Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima.
"I never knew Dr. [Martin Luther] King, I never knew Mahatma Gandhi, I never knew Mother Theresa, but I knew Cesar Chavez and he was a man that did great things nonviolently," said actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. during a rally before the Sunday march. "Organize like you have today, come together and organize in a nonviolent way and take community action for the farm workers who are dying out on the field facing inadequate, poor conditions. These people work so hard to put food on our table. They should be honored, they should be revered."
Those were the same sentiments expressed by Olga Lopez, director of Triumph Charter School in San Fernando, one of the hundreds of people who took part in the march.
"To me he was a humble man who made a great difference and that resonates with me," said Ms. Lopez, who was participating in the March for Justice, as the event is called, for the second year in a row.
"I'm here to show the kids, the students, that when people unite they are stronger, just like Cesar did for the farm workers," she said. Her husband also spoke of the work Chavez did to improve people's lives.
"He was a great leader, a great man who fought for all Latinos, for a better future for all of us," said this man who was taking part in the march for the first time.
The pilgrimage featured marching bands, Aztec dancers, cheerleading squads and drumlines from local schools.
People carried signs that ranged from support for health care, advocating for a stop to immigration raids and calling for workers' rights.
And for the first time, there was a large representation from the group Bienestar Latino, a gay, lesbian, transsexual, transgender advocacy group that provides education and services to this community, as well as those with HIV/AIDS.
"We want to be represented in this march because we're a community that counts," said Silvia Valerio, a representative of the organization. Bienestar Latino, a community organization advocating for gay, lesbian, transsexual and transgender individuals, were part of the Cesar Chavez march for the first time this year.
She noted their presence fit rightly in the march, since "we are all immigrants and we are a minority and a community that is not represented and that's who Cesar Chavez fought for."
For the first 15 years of the march, the event was done in collaboration with the City of San Fernando.
But the past two years, as that municipality has struggled with a financial deficit, they have rescinded that support.
That's why for the past two years, organizers have had to change the route and have received support from the City of Los Angeles.
"It's unfortunate that we're no longer working with the city of San Fernando because they were the first to recognize his holiday," said Reza. "However, we had a very beautiful event last year and we're grateful with the support of the City of Los Angeles. At some point in the future maybe we can go back to the city of San Fernando, but we feel good about working with LA City."
The Sunday pilgrimage was the kickoff point for an entire week of community service events in honor of the union leader.
As part of the ninth annual Cesar Chavez Community Service Week, Los Angeles County employees volunteer for a number of events benefiting the community. This year, the observance is focused on the U.S. Census.
"We are pleased to continue our annual tradition of volunteering in the community during this week of service," said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Board Chair Gloria Molina in a press release.
"This year, our focus is on Census outreach, and the County family is also working in partnership with community volunteers to urge our neighbors to fill out and return their Census questionnaires. To get our fair share of federal funding, Los Angeles County must be fully counted," said Molina.
The County's Cesar Chavez Community Service Week also continued its tradition of conducting a two-week food drive, March 22 through April 2, with all contributions donated to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Last year, county employees donated nearly 23,000 pounds of food at 234 sites.
In addition, the County Probation Department and the Los Angeles Office of Education will work together to celebrate Cesar Chavez's love for the arts by conducting arts and craft sessions, drawing and writing contests at juvenile camp schools. Youths at the facilities are taught to embrace Chavez's values of self-respect and service to community.