The United Farm Workers (UFW) flag will once again be carried proudly in the Northeast San Fernando Valley as scores of people, including local politicians and students take part in the annual César E. Chávez March for Justice this Sunday, March 29.
The flag — first designed by Chávez in 1969 — holds the Eagle (the UFW logo) in black symbolizing the farmworker’s struggle encircled by the color white to signify hope, against the red flag symbolizing the sacrifices that would be made.
The local march, which travels along Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Mission Hills, was organized following the labor leader’s death.
“This is a march we’ve been doing for the past 22 years where we try to keep alive the legacy of César Chávez, his philosophy and his work, which is what we try to remember,” said Virginia Megerdichian of the César Chávez Commemorative Committee, which organizes the event.
Megerdichian said this local march was the first march in the nation to be held in honor of the civil rights leader. It originated in the City of San Fernando, but as the political wind changed on the local city council, it became necessary to move the rally outside of the city. The march requires about $25,000 in operating costs: that includes securing the permits to hold the march, the kickoff rally at Brand Park, and the festival at Ritchie Valens Park in Pacoima.
For the first 15 years of the march, the event was done in collaboration with the City of San Fernando, passing by the 100-foot Chavez memorial that last year celebrated its 10th anniversary. But for the past seven years the march’s route was changed.
It now starts with a rally and speeches at Brand Park in Mission Hills at 10 a.m., before departing at noon for a walk along Brand Boulevard and then turning south on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, ending at Ritchie Valens Park. A cultural and artistic festival is held there, complete with music, folklorico dances and entertainment.
This year Maria Elena Durazo, former Los Angeles County Federation of Labor leader and now vice president for immigration, civil rights and diversity for Unite Here, is the keynote speaker. Newly elected state Assemblywoman Patty López will also appear. There are other special guests still to be confirmed, including L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Born in Arizona on March 31, 1927, Chávez grew up in a farm-working family that traveled the country following harvest work. Chavez himself worked in the field and knew first-hand the terrible conditions and lack of rights laborers faced.
In the 60s, Chavez founded the UFW along with Dolores Huerta and Philip Vera Cruz. During the farm worker strikes of the 1960s, Vera Cruz helped unite Filipino and Mexican laborers, which turned the union into a major force in the American labor movement.
Until his death on April 23, 1993, Chavez sacrificed and advocated for farmworkers, using marches, strikes, boycotts and hunger strikes to build awareness not only in the fields but in U.S. cities. His personal hunger strikes and strident belief of nonviolent protest successfully brought growers to the bargaining table and improved the lives of farmworkers.
It’s because of the work of Chávez and the UFW that the short-handle hoe was eliminated. The short-handle hoe caused farmworkers to bend and stoop all day long to harvest crops, causing many serious health conditions.
However, the struggle continued year after year, and growers often times broke their agreements forcing Chavez into yet another strike, boycott or hunger fast. His last hunger fast is said to have taken a great toll.
During the last years of his life, the use of toxic pesticides in the fields was a large focus and concern for the labor leader, pointing not only to the dangerous health effects on farmworkers but the genetic effects on their young children. The issues raised by Chavez continue to be hot button issues today for the food industry and consumers who seek out non-GMO foods and pesticide-free foods.
The safety of farmworkers also continues to be the center of struggle for the United Farmworkers Union.
Megerdichian, noting the history of the UFW and Chávez said it’s important to keep his memory alive, especially among the new generation unaware of his contribution.
“”He’s our only Latino civil rights leader,” Megerdichian said. “A lot of students don’t know what César Chávez did. They don’t know the concept of being a hero for the farm workers like he was. It’s important to let them know that they have this Latino they can look up to,”
The committee recently held a series of workshops at the César Chávez Learning Academy, where students from the east San Fernando Valley gather to learn about Latino culture, art and the work of leaders like Chávez.
“We need to teach the new generations what César Chávez did, and what’s still being done,” Megerdichian said. “He made some difference, but this sector (farm workers) is still marginalized and we need to let the young people know they must wake up. Somebody has to continue the work that César Chávez started.”
The event starts at 10 a.m. with a rally at Brand Park, 15121 Brand Boulevard, in Mission Hills. The march will begin at 12 p.m. along Brand Boulevard and turn south on Laurel Canyon Boulevard until it ends at Ritchie Valens Park, at the corner with Paxton Street, where there will be an arts and culture festival.
–Diana Martinez contributed to this article.