Thousands gather at Stark Field for festival honoring UFW union founder Cesar Chavez

March 31, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

As thousands of Imperial Valley residents came together Saturday at Stark Field in El Centro, one phrase echoed throughout the park — "Viva Chavez."

From 1 to 10 p.m. Stark Field was the scene of the first Cesar Chavez Festival, an event created by the Imperial and Calipatria chapter of the Chicano Correctional Workers Association.

Organizers hope the event will become a tradition in the Imperial Valley both to honor the man who founded the United Farm Workers union and to bring together cultures.

The festival was part of a celebration of Chavez's birthday, which has become a state holiday.

In a separate event Friday, the Employment Development Department office in El Centro was dedicated in the name of Chavez. Additionally, local schools held events to teach students about Chavez.


Chavez, who attended Hidalgo Elementary School in Brawley, was the driving force behind the farm labor movement in the 1970s. He was head of the United Farm Workers until his death in 1993.

Those who stood with Chavez said he taught farm workers to live and work with pride.

Saturday's festival featured mariachi music, food, a pageant and speakers who told of the pride Chavez created through his efforts as the farm labor leader.

Margaret Gandara, president of the Imperial Chapter of the Chicano Correctional Workers Association, said, "We are not just celebrating (Chavez's) birthday. We are remembering all the struggles that the Hispanic community has gone through."

She added of all cultures, "Everyone has gone through a struggle and we are here to remember everyone's struggle and how far everyone has come."

The idea for the festival came from Joe Garcia, a member of the Imperial chapter of the CCWA.

Garcia was a farm worker between the ages of 7 and 18.

"We figured the community deserved something," Garcia said. "This is something for all the community to come together."

Garcia added, "We are very proud of the people that have come out here to support us today."

Suzanne Aguilera-Marrero, statewide president of the CCWA, was present for the event. She said it's important that such an event be held to honor a Hispanic leader.

She said of Chavez, "He was a person who did a great deed during a time when there was a great need for representation."

Aguilera-Marrero added Chavez taught an important lesson that through unity much can be accomplished.

She said, "We need to continue to strive."

A pageant was held as part of the event. The teen-aged girls competing to be crowned the first Cesar Chavez festival queen had to sell tickets. The money for those tickets will go toward the CCWA scholarship fund, and the girls themselves will get portions of the scholarship funds.

Molly Perez, 17, a student at Brawley Union High School, was crowed the queen; Bernice Dueñas, 17, also of Brawley High, was the first runner-up, and Christina Dominguez, 17, another Brawley High student, was the second runner-up.

Christina said she was proud to take part in the event honoring Chavez.

"He made a big impact on the Imperial Valley and on the farm workers," she said. "I'm glad he took a stand."

Esteban Jaramillo, program coordinator for the Calexico Neighborhood House training center, said he was pleased to see a festival in honor of Chavez.

"It's important because it commemorates Chavez's sacrifice and it commemorates social justice," Jaramillo said, adding Chavez didn't just help farm workers. Chavez helped consumers by bringing attention to the use pesticides, Jaramillo said.

Aguilera-Marrero said she hoped people left the festival with a feeling of pride.

She quoted a saying that has become important to the farm workers' union.

"Si se puede, si se quiere."

"You can do it if you want."

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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