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Hundreds gather to honor Cesar Chavez, celebrate Latino heritage

March 30, 2014 Updated: March 31, 2014 at 11:57 am
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photo - The life and legacy of Cesar Chavez was honored on Sunday, March 30, 2014, with a walk in downtown Colorado Springs. Raul Chavez with Huitzilopochtli Aztec dance group lead the way for the walk that went from Pioneers Museum to Acacia Park. Cesar Chavez was an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. ONLINE PHOTO GALLERY (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
The life and legacy of Cesar Chavez was honored on Sunday, March 30, 2014, with a walk in downtown Colorado Springs. Raul Chavez with Huitzilopochtli Aztec dance group lead the way for the walk that went from Pioneers Museum to Acacia Park. Cesar Chavez was an American farm worker, labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association. ONLINE PHOTO GALLERY (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

More than 250 people marched through downtown Sunday to celebrate Cesar Chavez, the late Mexican-American labor leader and founder of the United Farm Workers. It was the first Cesar Chavez March in Colorado Springs in five years, but participants hope to turn the event into an annual celebration and a unifying occasion for the local Latino community.

Dancers wearing traditional Aztec feather-clad headdresses led the procession from the Pioneers Museum to Acacia Park.

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Upon reaching their destination, the group loudly chanted, "Si, se puede!" meaning "Yes, we can!" - the rallying cry that helped Chavez inspire immigrant farm workers in the 1960s and '70s.

Francisco Garcia, 64, said it was that belief in better opportunities - for himself and his family - that encouraged him to immigrate to California from Guadalajara, in west-central Mexico, more than 30 years ago. In 2001, still pursuing higher education and better employment, Garcia moved to Colorado Springs and worked as a heavy auto mechanic at Fort Carson for several years.

"You know, they used to say that the sky was the limit, but that's not really true because there's space beyond the sky," Garcia said.

"Beyond space, there will be something else, like your dreams. Your dreams will be the limit."

Sunday's Cesar Chavez March was the first in the Springs since 2009 and the first in 40 years where the local Colorado Latino Forum chapter worked in conjunction with the group's Denver and Pueblo chapters, said state board member Christine Mendias.

Mendias is a professor of Chicano studies, sociology and ethnic studies at Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado State University-Pueblo and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Celebrating Chavez's civil rights activism and peaceful protests for better pay, working conditions and health protections for itinerant farmworkers always will be an important part of the Latino community's heritage, Mendias said.

On this year's agenda was gathering support for the implementation of ethnic studies as part of the K-12 school curriculum. "We really want to make this an annual event to highlight American heroes of Latino descent and to gain support for the addition of ethnic studies as part of the study curriculum for children in our state," Mendias said.

The ethnic studies proposal, which has yet to be designed and presented to school boards and the state Legislature, has been received positively, Mendias said.

Many communities throughout the country also held marches in Chavez's honor over the weekend, coinciding with the recent release of a biographical film about the civil rights leader. March 31, Chavez's birthday, has been designated Cesar Chavez Day in California, Colorado and Texas.

"We can all take advantage of all the opportunities available and to become better people," said Garcia, who will complete his applied science degree at Pikes Peak Community College in May.

"It's important to teach our children about people like Cesar Chavez and encourage them to keep up with what was started. They don't have to finish it, because ours is a never-ending story."

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