Residents commemorate Chavez's birthday with march, pageant and rally

March 31, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — To commemorate Cesar Chavez's birthday, a host of Calexico's "Chavistas" marched from the border to Rockwood Park carrying red flags bearing the United Farm Workers logo and shouting "Si se puede!"

In El Centro, the Chicano Correctional Workers Association sponsored the second annual Cesar Chavez celebration and pageant.

At both events, Cesar Chavez's life's work of fighting for the rights of migrant field workers was praised, but participants at each event stressed that the struggle, "la lucha," did not end when Chavez died in 1993.

At the Rockwood Park rally in Calexico following the march, Gustavo Aguirre said a recent event such as the Supreme Court decision to deny back wages to illegal immigrants is just one example of how far migrant workers have yet to go on the path toward fair treatment.


Aguirre, national vice president of the UFW, said, "Our brothers, those that work in the fields, don't have the rights to the salaries they've earned? It's incredible …"

Despite the Supreme Court setback, Aguirre said his organization would continue to fight for better treatment of the 6 million illegal immigrants working in this country.

In fact, Aguirre wants to see those illegal immigrants given the opportunity to become U.S. citizens.

"Their children go to school here, they buy cars here, they buy houses here and they should be given the chance to naturalize," he said in Spanish.

Esteban Jaramillo took the microphone after Aguirre and said that people ask him why it is still important to hold events in the name of Chavez.

The gang outreach worker for Calexico's Neighborhood House said, "His work was never ending. Even on his final day … he died on the struggle."

In addition, Jaramillo feels that Chavez's message still rings true today.

"Chavez helped teach others how to help themselves," he said.

Third-generation "Chavista" Danny Santillan said getting that message of self-reliance out to the Imperial Valley's migrant workers is harder than it is in Central California.

"It's hard to win a strike here because Mexican workers will come and take the jobs," he said.

Asked if the farm workers here would need to strike if more Mexican-Americans were land-owning farmers, Santillan said, "It wouldn't make any difference. SOBs come in all colors, religions and shapes."

Meanwhile, Calexico City Councilman-elect Alex Perrone said he participated in the rally because, "Cesar Chavez has paved the way for a lot of us but I feel there is still a lot of work to do."

Jaramillo also feels there is a lot of work to do.

During his speech, he said the Calexico City Council and state and federal governments need to do more to help support programs that benefit migrant workers.

Asked to comment on Jaramillo's comments, Perrone said, "I agree. It's our community and we need to see what we can support."

Perrone's fellow councilman-elect David Ouzan said he attended the rally because, "We must not forget Chavez. He fought to improve the quality of life for migrant workers."

He feels honoring Chavez and saluting farm workers is equally important because, "some people in the Imperial Valley ignore the migrant worker. There they are … working the worst and hardest work there is. They need to get fair wages. They need to be treated good. Let's not forget them."

The Calexico march and rally was sponsored by the Neighborhood House and the Enrique "Kiki" Camarena Memorial Library.

North of Interstate 8, Calipatria CCWA Chapter President Jorge Santana said El Centro's Chavez celebration was held to honor a man who "helped get us off the short hoe, get higher wages, health insurance, retirement plans, better working conditions and safer sanitary conditions."

The festivities at the Stark Field celebration included traditional Mexican foods, car and motorcycle exhibits and music throughout the day, "and of course, the pageant," Santana said.

At this year's pageant, Monique Felician was crowned the winner by last year's winner, Molly Perez. As was Perez, Felician is a 17-year-old junior at Brawley Union High School.

In addition to being named second runner-up, Anna Lillian Mercado of El Centro won the essay contest. Mercado, 17, attends Southwest High School.

Santana said all the pageant contestants had to write an essay about the life and work of Chavez.

Taking third runner-up laurels was Ruby Gonzalez, 17, of Brawley Union High School.

In addition to the pageant, attendees at the El Centro event listened to live music from Mariachi Mixteco, solo performances by Jose Hernandez and Katie de Luna and a show-closing performance by Latin Connection.

All of the money raised at the event will be earmarked for scholarships.

Last year, more than $7,000 in scholarship cash was distributed to Valley students.

Santana hoped to raise more than $10,000 at this year's event.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or

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