Posted on 04-05-2012
Chávez’ vision continues through leadership
By Toni Frésquez
Epic photos of César Chávez, colorful placards displaying messages of ˇSi Se Puede! and Huelga were carried through the streets of southwest Denver last Saturday in remembrance of the late leader. Hundreds joined the 11th Annual César Chávez Day celebration, organized by the César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee (CCPJC), commemorating Chávez’s birthday on March 31st.
The day began with a customary mass hosted by St. Cajetan’s Church in southwest Denver, followed by the traditional march to the Denver Indian Center on Morrison Rd.
In a symbolic move, local danzante group leaders Carlos Casteńeda of Grupo Tlaloc and Raul Chávez of Huiltzliopotchli led their dance troupes in the march and danced together in the procession and later performed unified ceremonial tributes at the celebration’s opening program.
Each year the Committee awards local community members and organizations who embody the ideals of the late United Farm Workers co-founder.
A posthumous award was presented to humanitarian Gilbert Chávez, who passed in November of 2011, and was an inspiration to numerous students throughout his coaching endeavors. Gil’s brother, Eloy Chávez, Executive Director of ACE Community Challenge School, received the award on behalf of his brother and family members. “He was my role model and my idol,” praised Eloy. Gil also worked with youth at ACE, alongside Eloy. “I never told him that I love him…I love you Gil,” he said to his brother.
“I know he’s up there somewhere coaching,” smiled Eloy.
The event’s keynote speaker, Henry Román, President of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association offered inspiring words to challenge others to continue with César Chávez’s vision. “One person can change things and improve lives everywhere,” said Román, noting efforts need to be unified and not individualized.
“The ‘me’ attitudes weaken our social fabric. We have to ask ourselves, what are we doing for others? Let’s work together to honor César Chávez,” challenged Roman.
Healthcare professional Dr. Mark Solano, MD, a past CCPJC award recipient, also shared his sentiment in the greater good of organizing, but also stressed the need for basic healthcare. “Our healthcare is an atrocity in this country,” expressed Solano. “And there is a need for justice, farm workers should not have to be poisoned by the crops in the field they are working.”
Dr. Solano presented Raul Chávez with the Male Leadership Award for his humanitarian achievements. The humble Chávez offered few words, but requested a moment of silence in honor of César Chávez. Upon receiving the award Chávez, was embraced by family with heartfelt abrazos and pride.
María "Dora" Esquibel was this year’s Female Leadership Award honoree, accompanied by her family, the Elder offered a glimpse into her past and her struggles as an activist. “This award is for my family and friends, thank you for being there for me,” said Esquibel, and offering praise for former UMAS students, and her attorney.
She added, “The lawyer who helped get me out of prison – that lawyer is Ken Padilla. He knew they were setting me up.”
Esquibel explained she was told she could possibly be detained in jail for at least three months awaiting her fate. “It took eight days,” she said for Padilla to free her from jail. “‘You’re free, go home’ he said.”
Through her extraordinary experiences and wisdom, Esquibel offered advice explaining, “Only together can we unite the battle. It has always been this way. The only way to be is together and for those who don’t want to be [together] – then get out of our way.”
Denver’s talented Café Cultura received accolades receiving the Organization Leadership Award for their accomplishments through the spoken word collaborations. Café Cultura members Ara Cruz and Derek Brown, accepted the award on behalf of the group. They will hold a benefit on April 13th, with a screening of “Precious Knowledge” -- a look into the banned Mexican American Studies classes in Arizona – with proceeds going to Arizona student causes (Info: cafecultura.org)
CCPJC also recognizes youth in their leadership roles. Jay Jaramillo, an energetic college student at Metro State College of Denver, and President of Journey Through Our Heritage program at Metro, received this year’s Youth Leadership Award.
“I am honored to be recognized as a leader of a coming-of-age group of artists and activists who demonstrate the philosophy of nonviolence to promote and preserve our cultural art and studies for the future in pursuit of the vision of César Chávez; the elusive goal of social peace and justice,” said Jaramillo, also an art consultant at the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council.
Spiritual leader, Roseanne “Rocky” Rodríguez closed the celebration offering inspiration and encouraged community collaboration and local and global awareness.