By Alex Distefano
Just the mention of the name César Chavez is synonymous with ideals of leadership, a fight for equality, civil rights and basic human dignity for the entire work force. Although the iconic advocate for poor farm workers from the 1960s already has numerous scholarships, schools and streets named after him, now the City of Riverside will unveil a monument to celebrate the life of the late civil rights leader.
A statue of Chavez will be unveiled this Saturday, the conclusion to a week full of events, honoring the legacy that Chavez left, especially for California’s huge agricultural industry.
But, organizers of this event, the Latino Network, want to stress that Chavez’s message and accomplishments go beyond the concerns of Mexican farm workers.
“Cesar E. Chavez is an American hero,” says Ofelia Valdez-Yeager, president of the Latino Network’s board and chair of its Chavez Committee. “He serves as an inspiration for many people not just farm workers or Latinos. He fought for justice and basic dignity to be afforded to everyone. He also worked to fight against discrimination in favor of human rights, and affected lots of people—especially in the Inland Empire.”
Valdez-Yeager said that the celebrations held this past week (under the umbrella term “Remembering a Hero: Celebrating a Legacy”) were mostly held on or adjacent to the Main Street Pedestrian Mall in Downtown Riverside. Monday’s events offered visitors with a youth based tribute to Chavez, including art, poetry and photo competitions all from sixth-grade students from Madison Elementary School. Tuesday focused on music, spoken word and art exhibits; with more than 15 regional artists displaying their works; all with artistic motifs relating to the life of the labor leader and his struggles.
Wednesday was based on dialogue, as several speakers reflected on how Chavez still affects our world today, and the origins of the farmworker movement that Chavez led. The panel included former United Farm Worker vice president Dolores Huerta, former UFW volunteer Barbara Carrasco, former National Farmworker Ministry leader Chris Hartmire and boycott leader Jerry Ryan will be moderated by Pitzer College professor Jose Zapata Calderon.
Valdez-Yeager told the Weekly that the entire project, including the statue of Chavez that will be unveiled on Saturday, cost approximately $400,000 dollars, with much of the money coming from donations.
“We have been heartened by the outpouring of support form the community and the monetary support from businesses and organizations,” she says. “We received levels of support from this group between $5,000 and $25,000.”
But it wasn’t easy. Valdez-Yeager said that the Latino Network—a non-profit organization based out of Riverside dedicated to issues such as education and youth outreach—faced some difficulties while organizing this project. “Our obstacles were with getting the word out, as we were all volunteers in this effort,” she says. “We did all the contacts, communications, planning and fundraising.”
Friday’s focus will be cinema, and is titled “La Causa in Film.” It will be held from 7pm to 9pm at the Universalist Unitarian Church on Lemon Street. The evening will feature short films, and picture/slide shows that highlight Chavez’ lasting legacy.
Saturday’s festivities will commence with an early morning mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Riverside’s Eastside neighborhood. Following the mass, churchgoers will walk in procession to the intersection of Main and University, where the memorial will be unveiled to the public at 10am.
Valdez-Yeager said she and organizers are very proud to have taken part in an effort to remember a hero.
“We are all proud to have helped create a memorial for someone who worked and sacrificed so that others could live in a world where they could feel free to follow their dreams and be valued and treated with dignity,” she says. “We need to ensure that our children and future generations learn about those that came before us, and inspired many to reach our dreams and potential.”