Past and present field conditions for migrant workers were spotlighted Saturday as dozens paid tribute to civil rights leader Cesar Chavez with a march and rally.
Azteca dancers, college students, civil rights advocates and other supporters of Chavez walked from Los Banos City Hall to Pacheco Park to honor the man who organized farmworkers. Gray skies threatening drizzle didn’t stop marchers who held Mexican, United Farm Workers and other flags as they chanted “Sí, se puede” in celebration of Chavez, who was known for his nonviolent protests.
Jim Soria, a Livingston councilman and candidate for Merced County sheriff, said he remembered being part of Chavez’s movement in 1985 when he was working for a farmers association packing boxes and someone asked him to join a march.
“I wanted to get out of a little bit of work,” Soria said. “We went on the march, got up to the front and met Cesar Chavez. Later on I realized how the march fought for rights of the migrant workers.”
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Ruben Santos, a member of the local civil rights group the Community Advocacy Coalition, said he saw the aftermath of his grandfather being mistreated in the fields.
“My grandfather picked grapes all day and he had to come home and wash his eyebrows. They were spraying (pesticides). They knew they had pickers out there and they couldn’t care less,” Santos said. “That was common practice in those days not to warn grape pickers.”
Santos said when he was 14 he also worked in the fields – 10 hours a day, six days a week, in 105-degree heat. Santos said the fields were watered while he was working, which created extreme humidity.
Caresse Rodriguez of the Merced chapter of the Brown Berets asked attendees to contact her group if they were being mistreated in the fields.
“Our people are still facing injustice,” she said.
Mayor Mike Villalta and Councilwoman Deborah Lewis attended the event. Villalta said he is the son of an Italian immigrant who wanted to see him do well in life. He told the audience that their parents also want to see them succeed and the way to do it is becoming educated. many speakers after Villalta also stressed the importance of education.
Folklorico dance was performed at the event.
Katrina Ruiz of UC Merced’s M.E.Ch.A., a Chicano rights group, and Maria Murillo of the Cesar Chavez Committee served as the masters of ceremony at the event. The Social Science Club of Merced College, Los Banos campus, also participated.
“It went well,” Ruiz said of the march and rally. “I’m hoping it can get bigger.”