'People say he was a hero'

Juan Gonzales works for the city of Glendale now, but when he was a child he and his family followed the harvest in California, picking lemons, oranges, peaches, grapes, plums and cucumbers.

“I remember when I was a young boy the movement going through the fields,” Gonzales said Saturday, recalling when advocates for the United Farm Workers of America walked among the crops to convince laborers to stand up against harsh work conditions.

Gonzales spoke as he took in Glendale's 10th annual celebration of Cesar Chavez, the founder of the UFW whose efforts led to improved conditions for field hands who faced low wages, dangerous conditions and the threat of violence if they organized.

More than 200 people came out to Pacific Community Center in South Glendale Saturday afternoon for food, performances, activities for children and a talk by Amy Navarrete, the president of the Glendale Latino Assn. who marched with the UFW more than 30 years ago.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), Mayor Ara Najarian and Councilman John Drayman were among those in attendance.

Yanitza Isava, a native of Venezuela who lives near the community center, said she comes to the celebration each year. “I don't know that much about Cesar Chavez, but people say he was a hero,” she said.

In 1962 Chavez founded what would become the United Farm Workers of America. Chavez used non-violent methods such as a grape boycott, lengthy fasts and, in 1968, a 340-mile protest march from the farm town of Delano to Sacramento to highlight the harsh plight of farm workers.

His efforts succeeded in forcing legal changes to protect workers and altered the practices of large agricultural companies.

Chavez died at age 66 in 1993. In 2000, Gov. Gray Davis declared March 31 a state holiday in his honor. State offices will be closed in recognition of the holiday on Thursday.

Glendale resident Bien Pineda, like many others, came to the event because a family member was part of the day's entertainment lineup. His daughter Brianna, a first grader, was one of 45 Edison Elementary School students who took the stage to sing “La vibora de la mar” and other songs as their parents held took pictures and videos with their cell phone cameras.

Dancers from Cerritos Elementary School also performed.

Helen Sung, a junior at Crescenta Valley High School, came out for the fun – and the extra credit her Spanish teacher promised for attending the event. Chavez, Sung said, “Gives us hopes and dreams for our future – that we can make the world a better place for a lot of people.”

Gonzales said much has changed since the rise of the movement. Still, he said, “Most of us driving along the freeway see the families in the fields, and we don't really understand the hardship they are going through. . . Things have changed for the better for a lot of them.”

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