By Andre O. Guzman
Photo by Claudia J. Gonzalez
Merced, Calif. — Hundreds of Central Valley residents gathered in Merced last Saturday for the city’s second annual commemoration in honor of the late labor activist and United Farm Workers (UFW) founder Cesar Chavez. The event began with a march and concluded with a three-hour long celebration at nearby McNamara Park.
Participants held flags bearing slogans like, “UFW, Si Se Puede” as they marched down 16th Street and Martin Luther King Way. Other signs included “#Health4All” and “Dump Trump,” that last in reference to the leading GOP presidential contender.
Merced Organizing Project (MOP), Building Healthy Communities and the Merced National Brown Berets teamed up with community activists for the event. Organizers say the goal of the commemoration is to honor Chavez’ legacy and mobilize residents around current issues.
According to a California Research Bureau study, the Central Valley has the highest proportion of laborers in the state. Many work long hours with little pay and no protection.
“It’s okay to organize and take it to the streets,” said Hashid ‘G-Flo’ Kasama, a National Brown Beret who traveled from Fresno to participate in the March. Kasama says he hopes to see more people stand up and organize in Merced.
“We have to stand up collectively as a people and utilize our voices to help create the changes we need,” he said.
Farm Laborer rights including healthcare and higher wages were the focus of the celebration.
Edmundo Zaragoza, 22, is the Field and Services Organizer with United Domestic Workers of America and one of the organizers of the march. He insists collaborative efforts like this are needed in order to change Merced.
“We started our campaign because home care providers and farmworkers are invisible to society,” he explained. “ We want people in power who care about health care and increasing the minimum wage to notice us.”
California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a landmark piece of legislation that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The law has been hailed by labor activists, though some question whether farmworkers – many of who are undocumented – will benefit.
Also at Saturday’s march was the mayor of Livingston and District 4 County Supervisor candidate, Rodrigo Espinoza. A peach and almond farmer, Espinoza came to the United States at the age of 10, and says immigrants deserve access to benefits afforded all Americans.
“People have family that’s been in the United States for 25 years who are undocumented and need health care,” said Espinoza. “They should be compensated for their hard work as well.”
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