By Abraham Marquez
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
On a windy and cold Sunday, hundreds gathered at Pacoima Charter School to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez for the 30th annual “March for Justice,” or “Lucha Por La Justicia,” rally. This march was the first in-person march since 2019 due to COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders over the last three years. Organizers of the San Fernando-based Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee instead held small virtual marches and connected their action via Zoom with the activities held by activists in other cities.
This year, however, people were back in force — gathering at the elementary school and representing various organizations, many waving the UFW flag chanting “Sí se puede” and “Immigration reform now,” demonstrating their years of support and passion for immigrant rights and the labor movement in the local community.
“This march is important because we need to keep inspiring the next generation of activists,” said Alex Orozco, who grew up across from the school in the San Fernando Gardens housing projects. Orozco is now the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) treasurer and secondary vice president-elect.
He used his time on stage to emphasize the importance of supporting workers from all sectors and noted UTLA’s winning support for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU Local 99) strike for better wages, healthcare and work conditions. He believes UTLA refusing to cross SEIU’s picket line, with 60,000 workers strong from two unions going on strike together, resulted in the labor union reaching an agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Also, UTLA is currently at the bargaining table with LAUSD.
“This is the legacy that Chavez left behind,” he added, referencing the countless boycotts, public demonstrations and negotiations held by the United Farm Workers Union.
Since 1994 the Cesar Chavez Commemorative Committee San Fernando Valley (CCCCSFV) has organized this march. It first began in the City of San Fernando, then — due to lack of resources and funding — moved to Brand Park in Mission Hills. This year’s march kicked off at the Pacoima Charter school because of construction at Brand Park. However, the change in location didn’t deter community members from attending.
“I’ve been coming to this march with my kids for over 10 years,” said Jessica Flores, a San Fernando resident. “It’s really nice to see that the march is back, and the people are talking about union organizing,” she added.
The speakers and organizers of the rally touched on the resurgence of the labor movement and, more specifically, the farmworker movement. “The pictures of people working the fields during the wildfires really made me appreciate their work,” said Jose Garcia, a Pacoima resident. During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, California named agricultural workers as essential workers which placed farmworkers at risk for COVID-19. Many growers didn’t keep farmworkers safe, failing to provide them with proper face masks, adequate physical distancing or notifying them of outbreaks. While some of the growers were fined, it didn’t help to protect those who worked in the fields.
“The pandemic exposed those whose work we really take advantage of and who we should be paying more,” Garcia added.
Last summer, the UFW led a 335-mile march from the historic landmark The Forty Acres in Delano to Sacramento, commemorating the life and work of Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement and to secure the signature of Gov. Gavin Newsom on the California Agricultural Labor Relations Voting Choice Act Assembly Bill 2183. “We started the march with 100 people and ended with 7,000 people, many who are Latino who see this as their cause. They’re driving all the organizing that is going on,” said Irv Hershenbaum, first vice president of UFW who worked directly with Chavez.
The San Fernando Valley: A Cesar Chavez Stronghold
The Northeast San Fernando Valley has a long history of supporting union efforts. Sunday’s march traveled along Van Nuys Boulevard, where 40 years ago, Cesar Chavez joined the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 645 and their fight to prevent the closure of the former General Motors (GM) plant in Panorama City in 1983. UAW organizers connected with social movement leaders of the time, which included figures like Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson, to bring awareness of their organizing efforts to prevent the plant from closing in the valley. Those efforts were able to keep people employed for years beyond its final closing and demolition in 2008.
The City of San Fernando is noted as the first city in the world to celebrate and commemorate an official Cesar Chavez holiday when it passed a resolution in 1993 soon after he died. The city declared March 31 — his birthday — a day of remembrance for the labor leader. Seven years later, California became the first state to honor him. The state legislature approved Senate Bill 984 making March 31 a state holiday by a vote of 25-0 in the Senate and 49-11 in the Assembly.
Northeast Valley Community Carries UFW Symbols
Following the beat of Aztec drums and dancers, supporters carried portraits of Chavez, signs bearing UFW slogans and flags. Members of various organizations, including the immigrant rights group CHIRLA (The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles), participated. The march ended at the Ritchie Valens Recreation Center in Pacoima, another local landmark, given the name in honor of their native son.
At the park, there was more music and speeches. One favorite performance was led by Jessica Casillas, secretary of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) from Los Angeles Mission College, who sang Lola Beltrán’s “El Herradero.”
“This [San Fernando Valley] community always accepted my father,” Paul Chavez told the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol. Paul, the son of the late leader and the president of the United Farm Workers Foundation, spoke of the connections.
“When he came here asking for help, they were the first to get behind his work. So, the fact that we are here now and it continues 30 years after his passing is moving.”
Editor Diana Martinez contributed to this article.
this is a great story. i was there with my husband.. the march was well organized and energetic.
I am happy that this march is back! I work at the Pacoima charter school and attended with my students. Great energy. A local event that brings people out for the good of Chavez legacy.
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