April 1, 2009


Event honors Chavez legacy


By Pamela Hale-Burns, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - On what would have been Cesar Chavez's 82nd birthday, dozens gathered Tuesday at Cesar Chavez Park downtown to celebrate his life's work.

Chavez, a Mexican-American farmworker, a labor leader, and a civil-rights activist, co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. He fought for improved working conditions for farmworkers and urged a boycott of table grapes in 1965. He died in April 1993.

Through the untiring efforts of Amelia Nieto, director of Long Beach's Centro Shalom, and Jessica Quintanilla, the director of Centro Community Hispanic Association, also in Long Beach, the last-minute plans to host the annual event were a success.

"We were flying by the seat of our pants," Nieto said. "I said let's do something, at least something small, but something. We cannot stop. Maybe it won't be what it's been in past years, but something."

Only four days before the event, with fliers in hand, Nieto and Quintanilla walked the neighborhoods and invited everyone.

"We decided we could not let this day go by without doing anything, because as you know, when you let it happen one year, chances of reviving it the next year are real small," Nieto said. "We kind of threw this together, but we feel good about it."

Locals enjoyed live Mariachi music as they lounged on the park's lawn and ate free food.

Several residents were invited to speak on this year's theme: "The Legacy of Cesar Chavez, Yesterday, Today and the Future" and the impact Chavez's work had on their lives.

"We remember our history because we need to learn from it and we can teach the young people about what Cesar Chavez was about," said Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga.

During the event, Nieto gave out questions to test attendees' knowledge of Chavez and his work.

"Even though there has been a Cesar Chavez event for the last seven years, and even though Cesar has a holiday, I anticipate people not knowing the answers to these questions and that's OK," she said. "This is the place where they need to learn the answers and hopefully it'll motivate them to do more research on their own."

Chavez's work undoubtedly led to numerous improvements for union laborers.

"Cesar gave everybody a different legacy," Nieto said. "Whether they met him, worked with him, walked on the boycott or the picket line or never met him in their lives. I want people to tell the kids why they became involved, what impact it had on their lives and what part of that legacy do they want and need for the next generation.

"I want people to leave here knowing more about Cesar and the UFW than they knew when they walked in."

Chavez's work also applies with today's economic woes, said Uranga.

"It's a time for us to rally the troops and say, `It happened once before where working-

class people were united and were able to benefit from organization and the community support so it's that time again,"' she said.

According to Uranga, Chavez's legacy isn't about one man.

"This was not a Latino struggle," she said. "Some of the first casualties were African-

American and Filipino. They were the ones who first organized and died alongside Cesar Chavez. Their struggle was really the struggle of all working people. So it's not a Latino struggle, it's a working-class movement."