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Hundreds of people celebrate César E. Chávez

Vida En El Valle

(Published Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 11:04AM)

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SACRAMENTO -- Heavy wind and rain did not deter the hundreds of individuals who took to the streets Saturday morning to celebrate the life and legacy of the late César E. Chávez.

"When I was a student, I learned about his boycotts and strikes. We heard it in the radio, saw it on the news and read about it in the newspapers. We continue to march because there are other causes worth fighting for and here, in our state's Capitol, our elected officials need to know what's important to the people today," said Páramo Hernández, general secretary of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Sacramento Chapter.

For the last 12 years, Hernández has participated in the annual César E. Chávez March that begins at Southside Park, makes a stop at the Capitol, and culminates with a celebration at César Chávez Park. However, recent construction surrounding the park prevented this year's celebration, and participants returned to Southside Park where local and elected officials shared their ideas of the United Farm Workers' leader.

"What Chávez did in the 60s and 70s was bring awareness to issues that were relevant and important to the time. His marches and protests were peaceful and they were done for good causes. Our future generations have to learn how to do the same with the issues we are facing today," said Hernández, 55.

Though Chávez's legacy of community organizing and activism is celebrated annually, Hernández says it is precisely this march that gives grassroots organizations -- and those fighting for social justice issues -- a day to not only commemorate his life but also an opportunity to point out current issues that are affecting the Latino community and people of color.

"Right now, we are pushing for the passage of the federal DREAM Act. We want our police agencies to stop towing away the vehicles of the undocumented; we want the Obama Administration to put a moratorium on deportations; we want more jobs; and, we want the good people of California to pass the tax initiative because it is the only way our Governor can balance the budget," Hernández said.

Pushing for a tax increase was also a message delivered by Senate pro tem, Darrell Steinberg.

"We have a chance in California to turn things around. If we pass the progressive tax increase this November, we can raise $9 billion for higher education and other public services that are being threatened," Steinberg told the crowd.

Steve Payán, an organizer for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement who helped recruit youth to participate in the march, believes it will take more than a tax increase to help address issues that are affecting youth and their families.

"We organize 365 days of the year and César Chávez day is another day in ensuring his legacy continues. I like bringing our youth to this march because when they participate, they walk away feeling empowered and know they can be held accountable for their own decisions and their future," said Payán who has been organizing youth for the last six years for a variety of causes.

At the march, he reiterated how youth are being affected by the downturned economy.

"We are fighting for our rights, our education which is falling through the cracks and the need for more jobs," said Payán, 28.

When he took the stage at Southside Park, he revealed startling numbers to the audience.

"Right now we have 3.5 million homeless people in the United States. We have 18.5 million empty homes -- many of which were taken by banks or fell into foreclosure. Obama has deported over one million people, this means change needs to come," he said.

Two activist marchers from Oaxaca, México shared their stories of struggle.

"We have to continue to remember the struggle of Chávez. We have to continue to defend employee rights and avoid systematic oppression in both México and the United States," said Fernando Mendoza from the Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca.

Every year, he makes the annual pilgrimage from Oaxaca to Sacramento to participate in the march and tell others to continue fighting for just causes like Chávez once did.

"Unidos y organizados venceremos," he said.

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