March through Hollister held to honor César Chávez

Community honors labor leader's birthday with three-mile march and speeches

Hollister residents celebrated the late César Estrada Chávez’s birthday (officially César Chávez Day) a day early, March 30, by holding a three-mile march beginning at Sixth and East streets. As they chanted slogans and sometimes sang, the walk threaded its way through city neighborhoods, and ending up at Dunne Park, where the farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist stood after a similar march.

In 1962, Chávez co-founded, along with Dolores Huerta, the National Farm Workers Association, late to be known as the United Farm Workers (UFW) union.

Those who participated in the event ranged from youthful members of San Benito County LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) to veteran civil rights activists who walked alongside Chávez when he came to Hollister and other California cities.

Veronica Lezama, a member of LULAC and one of the organizers of the event, said the group was honoring the memory of César Chávez, who she said, many people are not aware that he had a history rooted in the community and San Benito County.

“Today, we’re getting together with the community to organize this peaceful walk to commemorate his memory,” she said. “He did a lot of things for our community. He was very humble and no matter how difficult the situation might have been he spoke up, not only for himself, but for the rights of others.”

Lezama said the young people in the community should not be afraid to speak up when they see something that is not right.

“He accomplished better working conditions and better pay for farm workers,” she explained. “The farm workers didn’t use to have water breaks or restroom breaks. Those became part of the labor laws. The United Farm Workers union continues to fight for workers’ rights. Over in the Central Valley they are working with a lot of the growers to ensure that the pesticides that they are using are not harmful to the workers or consumers.”

Attorney Elvira Zaragoza Robinson, president of the board of directors for Community Fellowship Center, said while trekking along with others during the walk, that she considered Chávez her mentor, and if it hadn’t been for him she would never have become a lawyer.

At Dunne Park, Ricardo Nunez, a Board of Immigration Appeals representative with the UFW Foundation, spoke to the crowed.

“We are pleased to be here with you and march and see the attitude that you guys have,” he said and pointed out flyers announcing another march the following Sunday in Salinas that would begin in César Chávez Park and go through East Salinas.

David Havens, a retired minister, knew and supported Chávez, and was even arrested in Oct. 1965 while on a picket line during a protest at a Delano vineyard.

“It was very exciting for me to come here and see you marching,” he said. “I was a minister in Hollister and began to be familiar with the problems of farm workers and how they were being ignored. I joined César in Delano. Actually, I was the first person arrested as I was reading Jack London's, "Definition of a Strike Breaker. Jack London was a great writer who fought for justice in California.”

He asked the young audience how many of them knew who Jack London was. When no one raised their hands he told them they needed to learn who he was.

“Know your history, as he (London) said,” Havens said. “It’s important. Right now we’re facing some of the biggest crises. I spent my life working on problems in our country. César did too. He was concerned and felt there was dignity in farm working and it should be paid at a reasonable rate.”

He told them that at their age they could get involved and change history.

“We did and we need more people,” Havens said. “And now in our election we’re facing a great crises and you can make a difference. Make it with your parents, your friends, at work, volunteer, get out there in the street, and get everyone to vote.”

Then he drifted into an area that many in the crowd were too young to know to what he was referring.

“We could become like Nazi Germany in the 30s when the Nazis took over,” Havens said. “In this country we’re facing the same kind of crises again. Our country could go down the tubes like Germany if you, all of us, don’t get involved. In our age we got involved with the farm worker issue and it still isn’t solved, but we got lots of people and it makes me feel good to see you out here. There is hope and we make a change.”

The crowd applauded and cheered him, but it wasn’t apparent if they agreed with all of his comments or just those pertaining to the farm labor movement.

Hollister City Councilwoman Mickie Luna stepped up in front of the crowd, she said not only as an elected official, but as a personal friend of Chávez. She motioned to the area where everyone was standing in front of her.

“César Chávez stood right here many years ago,” she said. “At that time the city did not give permission to walk the street, so he had to go on the sidewalks. Back then, this community was not supportive. You know that very well because he ended up in jail. To think that you have a police car here, that you have police officers guarding and guiding you along that route. Isn’t that a difference?”

Applause broke out and someone shouted, “Not only that, but they’re Raza cops,” which brought a thunderous applause and shouting.

“They are with us today,” Luna said of the two Hispanic Hollister police officers. “That is a huge difference. I was a photographer at that time for César, and he asked Vince (Luna) and I to walk with him. I have a lot of pride to see all of you here today. You are the young people and we are the adults that can support you can move it on. I hope next year you can do it again because it does make a difference in our community. Just like the reverend (Havens) said, ‘it’s your vote that’s going to make a difference in this world and in this county.' So, don’t give up. Go out there and help everybody register to vote. Going back to César, his spirit is here. I don’t know if you can feel it, but I know I can.”

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]