SAN FRANCISCO – Thousands of Bay Area workers, social activists and their families marched through the streets of San Francisco to the city’s Civic Center March 24 to mark the 75th birthday of César Chávez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the first union leader and Mexican American to have a statewide holiday named after him.

The festive march and rally of more than 10,000 participants featured many contingents from organized labor, student and community groups. The event also commemorated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the UFW, and a large contingent of UFW members marched behind their union banner.

UFW President Arturo Rodriguez spoke of continuing the legacy of César Chávez, for farm workers who are still struggling in the fields. Rodriguez specially urged festival participants to support the Pictsweet mushroom workers by building the boycott against Pictsweet and calling on Pizza Hut to join the boycott. He also emphasized the need for Congress to pass laws to make legalization easier for undocumented immigrants, saying farm workers deserve to work without being intimidated and fearful for their safety.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Democratic Party Whip of the House of Representatives, hailed as an important first step in this struggle is the House vote extending Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which allows many undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. while they apply for permanent residency. She joined San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown in calling for a national holiday honoring César Chávez.

Grand Marshals of the Parade and Festival were Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Chávez of the UFW, Richard Chávez, brother of César and also a founding member of UFW, and Pelosi.

Others who spoke praising the role of César Chávez in leading the farm workers to dignity and decent wages and benefits included California Labor Federation (CLF) Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, CLF Executive Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus John F. Henning, San Francisco Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Walter Johnson, S.F. Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and Evelina Alarcon, state coordinator of the successful campaign to have Chávez’ birthday declared a state holiday.

As people lined up to sign petitions and to volunteer, Alarcon, now national coordinator of the campaign for a national holiday honoring César Chávez, expressed confidence that the holiday will be won with grassroots mobilization. “We’re not going to give up until we win,” she declared.

Musical entertainment at the Festival was provided by several groups including Los Diamantes del Norte, La Paz, Viva Mexico and Charlie Zamora y Su Grupo de Banda. Poems were read by the César E. Chávez Project.