Monday, March 30, 2009

Hispanic labor leader celebrated

Cesar Chavez is celebrated in Los Angeles
By Ari B. Bloomekatz, LA Times, March 30, 2009

In the middle of Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, soloist Dalia Rodriguez sang a ballad for Cesar Chavez, the late labor leader known for unionizing farmworkers.

Whether in cities or farm-fields, hope never withers or dies, for Cesar has given us the word: "You can do it!" is ever his cry, Rodriguez, 20, sang in Spanish.

The state holiday marking Chavez's life doesn't arrive officially until Tuesday, but the event at the downtown cathedral was among a handful in the Southland over the weekend that celebrated the legacy of the legendary union organizer.

Rodriguez sang the ballad in front of 3,000 parishioners who went to the Mass in Chavez's honor. Cardinal Roger M. Mahony presided over the service attended by union members wearing the purple shirts of the Service Employees International Union and the red shirts of the United Farm Workers.

Elsewhere Sunday, members of the Los Angeles City Council and other city leaders joined in the 16th annual Cesar Chavez March for Justice in Mission Hills. And Dolores Huerta, who helped found the UFW with Chavez, spoke about the labor movement at the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles.

Huerta, who also attended the Mass, said that one of the things to learn from Chavez's legacy was to always maintain faith, and that despite obstacles "he just kept going forward." Chavez died in 1993 at the age of 66.

His son, Paul Chavez, spoke at the cathedral about his father. He told parishioners that "when farmworkers fight to improve their lives, his legacy is honored" and that "when hospital workers, hotel workers and factory workers fight to improve their lives, his legacy is honored."

In an interview after the Mass, Chavez said that his father understood "that his work wouldn't be finished in his life. You always have to look for ways to inspire future generations of folks because the work won't be finished."

The ballad Rodriguez delivered at the cathedral described Chavez's humble origins in Yuma, Ariz., and the nonviolent tactics he later used to achieve victories for workers.

In strikes, in boycotts and marches the field hands banded together, raising aloft the red banner with the black eagle in the center. Delano, Fresno and Madera, Merced, Manteca and Modesto, Cesar asking only for justice when he arrives in Sacramento.

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