EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The City of El Paso has unanimously endorsed designating March 31 as a municipal holiday in honor of the late labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.
The motion brought forward at Wednesday’s City Council meeting by City Rep. Henry Rivera and seconded by representatives Isabel Salcido and Alexsandra Annello directs City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to establish the holiday as part of El Paso’s continued efforts to “address system barriers to racism and better include, celebrate and uplift communities of color in honor or Cesar Chavez.”
President Obama in 2014 earmarked March 31 as a commemorative federal holiday and Texas also designated it as an optional state holiday. Other local governments in El Paso, such as El Paso Community College and El Paso County already observe it.
Several community activists spoke in favor of the holiday and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, sent a letter of support.
“This is long overdue. This is a Hispanic who accomplished much toward making life better for all of us. We need to, as a Hispanic majority community, celebrate those who have opened doors for us,” said Isela Castanon-Williams, an El Paso resident and member of the El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees.
Some were overcome by emotion in praising an icon they said inspired them to overcome obstacles in society.
“If you know the name Martin Luther King Jr., you should also know the name Cesar Chavez,” said Dora Oaxaca, chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party. “However, many people don’t. He wasn’t known for being the great speaker that Dr. King was. He was soft-spoken and he had a peaceful approach to civil rights.”
Chavez is the cofounder of the United Farm Workers Union and led strikes and marches on behalf of California farm workers he felt were poorly paid and exposed to pesticides.
“He said the fight was never about lettuce or grapes, it was about people,” said Sylvia Acosta, a daughter of migrant farm workers who holds a Ph. D. and is CEO of the YWCA El Paso del Norte Region. “It’s about honoring our heritage, our community, our people. […] It’s long overdue.”
Rivera said Chavez’s activism inspired many people of different backgrounds and industry to fight for better pay and working conditions. “His devotion to the cause brought hope to Latinos throughout the nation. He gave everyone a voice,” Rivera said. “His legacy inspired all Davids to tackle Goliaths.”