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Famed labor leader Cesar Chavez honored in Colorado Springs

By: Chhun Sun
April 8, 2017 Updated: April 8, 2017 at 9:10 pm
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Marchers cross Colorado Avenue as they walk along Nevada Avenue Saturday, April 8, 2017, during the Cesar Chavez March that began at the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

It was a small affair.

But the participants of the Cesar Chavez March through downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday got their point across: the civil rights leader and founder of the farm laborers movement has not been forgotten.

Serina Ramirez-Martinez, 17, and Nathanial Martinez, 10, and other dancers from the Ballet Foklorico De La Raza dance group perform Saturday, April 8, 2017, outside the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum before the Cesar Chavez March that began at the museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Serina Ramirez-Martinez, 17, and Nathanial Martinez, 10, and other dancers from the Ballet Foklorico De La Raza dance group perform Saturday, April 8, 2017, outside the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum before the Cesar Chavez March that began at the museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Between 50 to 100 people took part in Cesar Chavez Day by marching from the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to Acacia Park, where several local figures gave speeches and a group of ballet folklorico dancers performed.

In its fourth year, the event has seen a decline in attendance. Organizer Don Martinez said the first year saw about 250 people. He attributed the decline to its being between spring break and Easter Sunday.

"That's been our challenge - to find a solid day that works with everybody," Martinez said. "We're learning and we'll keep learning."

Speakers at Saturday's march focused on the work of Chavez, who rose to prominence after organizing the United Farm Workers union and fighting to give Mexican-American laborers livable working conditions and fair pay.

Karina Grande, right, learns to dance with Serina Ramirez-Martinez from the Ballet Foklorico De La Raza dance group Saturday, April 8, 2017, outside the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum before the Cesar Chavez March that began at the museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Karina Grande, right, learns to dance with Serina Ramirez-Martinez from the Ballet Foklorico De La Raza dance group Saturday, April 8, 2017, outside the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum before the Cesar Chavez March that began at the museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Yolanda Avila, who was elected last week to the City Council District 4 seat, asked the audience to envision a dinner without the strawberries and other produce that were collected by migrant workers, usually under a hot sun.

"Do you ever think about the migrant workers who are out in those fields toiling away, working for very low wages," Avila said to the crowd. "And Cesar Chavez knew that and he had to bring their plight to the forefront."

About half of the crowd was made up of young people. A Palmer High student talked about the importance of learning about Chavez's legacy through classroom assignments, while small children grabbed the microphone and spoke about their impressions of the gathering. And members of SOMOS - a Hispanic/Latino cultural group at Colorado College - carried signs highlighting quotes by Chavez, including: "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed."

Nathanial Martinez, 10, and other dancers from the Ballet Foklorico De La Raza dance group perform Saturday, April 8, 2017, outside the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum before the Cesar Chavez March that began at the museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Nathanial Martinez, 10, and other dancers from the Ballet Foklorico De La Raza dance group perform Saturday, April 8, 2017, outside the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum before the Cesar Chavez March that began at the museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

El Paso county Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. told the crowd that diversity in leadership roles in the Colorado Springs area is "becoming the norm," citing himself and Avila as examples.

Colorado College students Cheanna Gavin, left, and Alejandra Hernandez march along Nevada Avenue with other marchers Saturday, April 8, 2017, during the Cesar Chavez March that began at the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. Hernandez’s sign says “A community united is never divided” in English. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Colorado College students Cheanna Gavin, left, and Alejandra Hernandez march along Nevada Avenue with other marchers Saturday, April 8, 2017, during the Cesar Chavez March that began at the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum and ended at Acacia Park in Colorado Springs. Hernandez’s sign says “A community united is never divided” in English. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

"I think that's good for the community, that everyone is going to be elected based on what their principles are," said Gonzalez. In an interview, he said his parents' work as farm laborers allowed him to focus on his education.

"They were hard workers, very respectful. My grandparents, my cousins did all that work," said Gonzalez, an Air Force Academy graduate. "I was younger, I didn't do that. My dad emphasized education and hard work, and I was able to do that at my school and earned an appointment at Air Force Academy and that changed my life."

Martinez said he hopes the Cesar Chavez March will draw a larger crowd next year, adding that anyone - despite their backgrounds - can participate or contribute to the event.

"We're coming back again next year and we'll be coming back strong," he said.

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