CHICAGO — More than eight years of lobbying and community protests, including a 19-day hunger strike in 2001, finally bore fruit Sept. 8 with the dedication of the new, state-of-the-art Little Village-Lawndale High School campus in the heart of the large, multiracial, working-class community on this city’s southwest side.

About 500 people — young and old, Black, Brown and white — attended the grand opening of the complex, which consists of four high schools, each with a distinct focus. The theme of the program was “Passing the torch,” echoing the long struggle to establish the schools and implying that the success of a community rests on the future of its youth.

Dolores Huerta, cofounder of the United Farm Workers union, was the keynote speaker. She called the founding of the campus an inspiration to other economically oppressed inner-city communities throughout the U.S.

“Today we are celebrating a school of a people’s culture, the fasting and sacrifice of a community, an example to take on all issues affecting the community,” Huerta said. “The working people create the wealth of the world,” she said, and “we need to serve the world’s poor.” Huerta said UFW cofounder Cesar Chavez frequently said “we need to teach an education of the heart.”

Noting the many injustices in the U.S. educational system, including the militarization of youth and the privatization of many schools, she added, “The money being spent in Iraq needs to be spent on schools and health care in our communities.”

As students, parents, community residents and visitors listened to the program, a banner on the stage read, “Unidos ganamos, Juntos la construimos!” (United we won, Together we built it!).

Jesus Garcia, executive director of the Little Village Community Development Corp., said the long-awaited campus was the result of a collective effort involving “contributions of hundreds of people, including parents, youth, educators, architects, organizers and Chicago Public School officials — Latinos, African Americans and whites.”

“That’s how public institutions should be planned and built,” he said.

A key chapter in the struggle to build a public high school in the area was a 19-day Little Village hunger strike by more than 15 mothers and other community residents four years ago. Although parents had lobbied the school board and city officials to build a new school as early as 1996, it was the hunger strikers “who brought to light the demands of our community’s struggle,” said Alderman Ricardo Munoz of the 22nd Ward.

Monies for the school were reportedly promised in 1998, but the project was delayed as a result of political opposition.

“I felt our community had been slapped in the face after they bought the land and didn’t build the school,” said Linda Sarate, a parent and one of the hunger strikers. “Now I’m just so happy and proud we did what we did and that I stayed involved as long as I have.”

The program included several cultural presentations, including a performance of a West African libation ceremony by the renowned Muntu Dance Theatre. Among those bringing greetings was Dan Cantrell, a spokesman for Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who congratulated the community for building “resources that will allow our communities to grow.” The program also included a moment of silence in memory of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The new campus, which is located at 31st Street and Kostner Avenue, includes a dance studio, swimming pool, distance-learning lab, auditorium, day care center, two gymnasiums and a Mayan sundial inside a cone-like structure designed as a monument to the community’s struggle. Many structural features were the direct result of community meetings held with the architects.

Each of the four schools has a separate focus: multicultural arts, world languages, science and technology, and social justice.

Rito Martinez, principal of the social justice school, said, “La lucha continua — the struggle continues.”

“This school will teach youth how to struggle,” Martinez said, adding that the school’s creation was the outcome of “Black and Brown struggling together” and was inspired by “leaders like Cesar Chavez, Rudy Lozano and many more who have struggled and fought for social justice, who say no to war, and who stood up for undocumented workers.”