“He (Cesar Chavez) was really uncomfortable with personal recognition. He believed there were many Cesar Chavez’s, people that made tremendous sacrifice, but whose names are lost to history,” said Paul Chavez, son of the civil rights leader, during remarks thanking the City of San Fernando for recognizing the contributions of his famous father through the memorial built in the city.
On Saturday, Oct. 18, Paul Chavez and his two sons, Andres and Fernando, gathered at the memorial along with the San Fernando City Council and residents to commemorate the occasion of its 10th anniversary.
The monument along Wolfskill and Truman streets features a 100-foot mural showing the life of the United Farm Workers (UFW) founder, stretching from his early years in Arizona through his passage in the Navy during World War II, his fasts and marches, as well as a bronze sculpture of Chavez and 10 figures depicting farm workers. There is also a rotunda with bricks and plaques from donors that helped finance the memorial.
For Mayor Pro Tem Robert Gonzales, the monument is an “experience.”
“Not only am I moved by this incredible monument and I’m able to learn about Cesar Chavez, but I’m able to remember my grandfather,” he said, noting that one of the bricks bears his grandfather’s name.
Mayor Sylvia Ballin recalled her childhood traveling with her parents to pick up harvests, and living in farm worker camps with no flush restrooms and dirt floor shacks. She said the monument is a testament to “the difference one person can have” in the world.
“Your father… showed us that it doesn’t matter where you are,” she told Paul Chavez. “If you’re the poorest of the poor, you do have a voice.”
Paul Chavez agreed with that.
“One of the hallmarks of his legacy was his determination — he never gave up,” he said. “He gave people hope and faith, even against tremendous odds, even if they were poor, uneducated or immigrant.”
Paul Chavez also spoke about the work the UFW continues to do these days, fighting for farm worker rights and getting them fair labor contracts like the 20-year legal battle UFW has been part of on behalf of 5,000 farm workers against Gerawan Farming. Inc. in Fresno. It also manages 5,000 housing units in four states, has Radio Campesina that reaches half a million people in three states, and provides educational and scholarship programs.
“My father, he knew that our work couldn’t stop at the workplace. It had to extend to the community,” Paul Chavez said.
Fernando Chavez, Cesar Chavez’ grandson, said the monument “shows you a lot of the history my parents talk about and brings it back to life.” He added it speaks to the lasting effect of a movement that gave people hope.
He said his fondest memories of his grandfather are the baseball games they used to play on Easter, when the entire family gathered at his grandfather’s home. Or the time when he took him for a drive and let him steer the car.
Fernando Chavez added the message of solidarity and help Cesar Chavez instilled in the movement he founded is as relevant today as it was when he led the UFW.
“He taught us we just have to serve others and stand up for things that you believe in because when people get together it’s a lot more powerful,” he said.
Built at a cost of $300,000 in 2004, with funds provided by the City of San Fernando, Metro, the Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee and private donors, the monument was designed and created by artist Ignacio Gomez (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Cesar Chavez). He was selected from more than 60 artists who submitted entries.
“I hope it has the same impact on the new generations that Cesar had on us and that they learn about the struggles he fought for,” Gomez said.
The monument took eight months to complete.
“We worked from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. with volunteers,” remembered Gomez. “I was getting three hours of sleep. After getting home, I would continue designing.”
He recalled the last weeks of the project being “a whirlwind of activity” as he tried to finish on time and up to his satisfaction.
“It’s held up pretty good. They’ve done a pretty good job with the maintenance,” said Gomez, who called this project, “a dream come true.”
For Alex Reza — one of those who spearheaded the project as part of the Friends of the Cesar Chavez Memorial and the Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee — the monument is a reminder that, after 10 years, the plight of workers has not improved and in some cases has deteriorated.
“His legacy of justice for workers is very relevant today because their income has not gained, their purchasing power has worsened, and the top 10 percent are better off than ever,” Reza said.
But the commemoration was “bittersweet,” said Julie Gonzales of the commemorative committee, because “after 10 years there’s been some wear and tear. We need to restore and repair this memorial.”
More notably, they need to replace at least 14 of the 23 brass plaques that acknowledge the donors who helped pay for the memorial. The plaques have gone missing in recent months, due to vandalism.
The plaques are part of a small rotunda at the far edge of the memorial. They name donors who contributed more than $1,000 to help pay for the construction and development of the site.
Authorities believe the plaques were stolen by thieves looking to cash in at metal recycling businesses.
The Oct. 18 event also kicked off a fundraising campaign to return the memorial to its top shape, and even expand its mission to relate to the new generations the legacy of civil rights leaders.
The committee is selling commemorative bricks that will be part of the rotunda. There are two sizes: a 4×8 brick with three lines of type for $125, and an 8×8 brick with six lines of type for $250. Each brick can contain up to 20 characters per line.
To order a brick or get more information, call (818) 837-2272 or visit www.brickmarkers.com/donors/ccm.html.