Life, Work of Cesar Chavez Remembered at Festival

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Thinking back Sunday at a birthday celebration for Cesar Chavez, public health worker Rosalinda Prado remembered the late labor leader as a soft-spoken and humble man.

But Prado, the daughter of a former strawberry harvester, said Chavez's gentle demeanor belied the strength and inspiration he provided thousands of workers fighting for better conditions in the fields.

Prado, who met Chavez when she was a young girl in the 1980s during the peak of the local farm worker movement, said she believes his work continues today--seven years after his death--to be a source of power and encouragement.

"Even for someone like me who was raised in La Colonia," said Prado, 26, referring to the hardscrabble neighborhood near downtown Oxnard. "Just because you're raised in a tough neighborhood, doesn't mean you can't get out and do better."

Prado was among hundreds of people who gathered Sunday to celebrate the life and work of a founder of the United Farm Workers union.

And she was among those still moved by the motto Chavez adopted for organizing farm workers: "Si se puede" or "Yes you can."

The motto was emblazoned on hats, buttons and banners throughout Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard, where supporters rallied after a mile-long processional from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

The second annual festival was timed to mark Chavez's birthday, which some legislators in Sacramento are working to make a paid state holiday.

But the focus Sunday was on the work Chavez did to improve the lives of farm workers, work that UFW organizer Lauro Barrajas said needs to continue today.

"We talk about computers and how things are always improving," Barrajas said. "But we have conditions here that are no different than they were 50 or 60 years ago."

The UFW has stepped up efforts toward meeting that goal.

The union has been waging an organizing effort at Coastal Berry Co., the nation's largest strawberry grower with farms in Oxnard and Watsonville.

The union is also negotiating a new contract with local mushroom grower Pict-Sweet, where workers are overdue for a pay raise, union supporter Denis O'Leary said.

Sunday's celebration started with a church Mass, followed by a march of more than 500 supporters to Plaza Park.

Along the way, the flag-waving marchers, Mexican folk dancers and mariachis passed by the onetime home of Chavez, at the corner of Colonia Road and Garfield Avenue.

Before dashing off to another Chavez celebration in the San Fernando Valley, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez led crowd members in chants of "Si se puede," and asked in Spanish for their continued support.

Relaxing in the shade of a palm tree, Jose Garcia, 72, said he first met Chavez when the union sought to organize him and other Delano grape pickers in the 1970s.

"At first, people from the fields didn't understand why he was good for workers," said the Oxnard resident. "Now, things are much better."

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