Photo by Claudia J. Gonzalez. Guadalupe Reyes-Calderon, 17, poses with her 1st place winning drawing at the 1st Annual Merced Cesar Chavez Celebration.
Claudia J. Gonzalez
MERCED– For the first time in the history of Merced, community organizers, organizations, and residents came together to celebrate the legacy of Cesar Chavez, and to continue the fight for farmworker rights and health care.
The festivity began on the corner of M & 16th Streets, where over 100 people gathered to march to McNamara Park. Escorted by the Mi Gente Motorcycle Club and the Brown Berets, the marchers made their way peacefully while chanting “El Pueblo unido, jamas sera vencido!” or “The People united will never be defeated!” and “What do we want? Health for all! When do we want it? Now!”
Many of the marchers were youth and young adults who held up signs, United Farm Workers (UFW) symbols, and Mexican flags throughout the quarter-mile journey. Some of the youth had travelled from different areas of the county.
“It was a dream of mine to have a Cesar Chavez celebration here in Merced,” said Jesse Ornelas, 40, an organizer of the event and member of the Brown Berets and Merced Organizing Project (MOP). “This year the right group of people got together and finally made it happen.”
Ornelas said his main goal was to have youth present at the event. Once he looked at the crowd preparing to march, he felt he had accomplished his objective.
“Having them be present at this celebration signifies they care about their culture and about heroes like Cesar Chavez,” he said. “It really gives me hope for the future of our youth.”
Seventeen year-old Maria Reyes from Golden Valley High said she attended the march in solidarity with Central Valley fieldworkers.
“I came here because I want farmworkers to keep on fighting for their rights just like Cesar Chavez [did],” she said.
Victor Daniel Gonzalez, 6, made the journey from Atwater to be with his grandfather during the commemoration of Chavez.
“I wanted to come see my grandpa march,” he said. “I had a lot of fun and I was happy.”
The first grader’s grandfather, Jose Mancebo, has worked in the fields for over 30 years.
The highlight of the day for many youth was the Viva La Huelga art contest presented by Merced Organizing Project.The contest theme was the importance of labor strikes in the farmworker movement. First, second, and third prize winners were awarded with a certificate, goodie bags, and gift cards donated by various local businesses and organizations, including Building Healthy Communities (BHC), MOP, Health4All, J&R Tacos, The Cue Spot Billiards, Apoyo Financiero, Surelink, and Avon.
Although the contest was open to all ages, the majority of entries were from high school students.
Layla Ornelas, an eighth grader from Weaver Middle school, said she was surprised to find out she had been awarded the 3rd place prize.
“I saw the other drawings and I thought they were very good, but I’m very happy that I won,” Ornelas, who drew a farm worker holding up a ‘Huelga’ sign, said. “I’m looking forward to entering again next year.”
Second prize went to Stacy Swanson, 28, who submitted a painting depicting a farmworker fight back against injustices.
“I love art so I was happy to participate in this contest,” she said.
The grand prize went to 17-year-old Guadalupe Reyes-Calderon from Golden Valley High School, who said she heard about the art contest through her Spanish teacher and entered her artwork last minute. Her submission entitled ‘Harvesting Hope,’ portrayed a brighter future for farmworkers only made possible by striking and the efforts of Cesar Chavez.
“I never imagined I was going to win,” she said. “I was so excited and proud of myself. I worked very hard on my drawing and my hard work paid off.”
Earlier in the day Reyes-Calderon had marched with classmates and community members.
“My family are farmworkers, they work in the fields every day,” she said. “I’m here for them because I care.”
The Chavez march and art contest first prize win provided inspiration for Reyes-Calderon.
“Now I am motivated to keep working on my art,” she said. “I also want to get more involved in my community so I can help out all the farmworkers.”