LOS ANGELES – As California celebrated Cesar Chavez’s birthday, March 31, thousands of people – of all races and nationalities – in Southern California participated in hundreds of actions and events throughout the weekend.

Chavez’s stand for nonviolence and peace took center stage at this year’s actions, with chants of “Chavez Si! Guerra No!”(Chavez Yes, War No), along with workers rights, protests against budget cuts and calls for a national holiday. In 2000 Gov. Gray Davis signed into law an official, paid holiday for state employees. Youth in public schools learn about Chavez’s life and participate in community service projects.

UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, Gov. Davis, Mayor James Hahn, Cardinal Roger Mahony, State Senator Richard Alarcon and numerous elected officials marched here on March 31 with hundreds of purple-shirted janitors representing the 8,000 members of Service Employees International Union Local 1877, who enter contract negotiations with the city’s largest building owners.

“Que viva Cesar Chavez! … The struggle of Cesar Chavez was like that of Kennedy, like that of Martin Luther King, fighting for the rights of every worker,” Hahn told the janitors rally.

State Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson continued that theme saying, “If Cesar Chavez was alive today, he would be with us. If Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would be with us. But I submit to you that they are with us, because they live through us.”

Dolores Huerta told the press many are following the path opened by Chavez. “They believe in justice for workers. They believe in sacrifice, they believe in nonviolence, and they believe in peace.”

Over the weekend the largest event in the state took place in East Los Angeles on March 29. Over 8,000 people walked from East Los Angeles Community College through the streets of the nation’s largest Mexican American community. Leading the march was Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers (UFW) who was joined by Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, numerous elected officials and celebrities including Esai Morales, star of NYPD Blue, Ed Begley, Jr. and the cast of “Cesar and Ruben,” a musical about Chavez, which recently premiered here.

Following the spirited trek, was a festival at the college stadium with popular bands singing anti-war songs. Helen Chavez, the widow of Cesar Chavez, was present at one of the many booths to sign autographs for hundreds who lined up to meet her.

Keeping Chavez’s fighting spirit alive, thousands of students marched through downtown, March 29, chanting the UFW slogan “Si Se Puede” as they protested proposed fee increases and state budget cuts that would slash funding for California community colleges by $520 million next year.

In San Diego, thousands marched in a parade to the beat of drums and chants. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) marched alongside the United Domestic Workers of America (UDW) contingent. Sanchez told reporters she was happy to be in that city “to celebrate the legacy that Chavez left for all of us.”

UDW was celebrating the first 3,000 new members to join since they launched a “Chavez 25” campaign. Their goal is to organize 25,000 homecare workers.

In Imperial County workers voted to join UDW last week by a 98 percent margin. After the vote, lead organizer Sarita Martinez, told workers, “There are two things we need right now, peace on earth and a good union contract.”

Two thousand San Diegans attended the fifth annual Cesar E. Chavez Breakfast the day before the parade, where music, prayer and calls for peace set the atmosphere.

In Rialto, Congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) called on George W. Bush and Congress to pass a national holiday. “Cesar Chavez is the single most important Latino figure in modern American history. He touched the lives of millions of Americans with his nonviolent struggle for dignity, justice, equality and opportunity for all of us. We owe it to our country and the nation to make sure we come up with a holiday in his honor,” he said.

Baca introduced HR 112 last month, which has 34 co-sponsors. The bill does not establish the holiday, but puts the House of Representatives on record in support of a federal holiday for Chavez.

Actions large and small took place in towns and cities throughout Southern California. In San Fernando thousands marched, a banquet by the Harry Bridges Institute was held in San Pedro where longshore workers were honored, and in Capistrano Beach, Orange County fourth-graders at Palisades Elementary picked vegetables for a food bank.

The author can be reached at evnalarcon@aol.com

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