Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Road To Tucson's César E. Chávez Holiday

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2014 at 11:00 AM

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The mood was more celebratory than tense Tuesday when the city council voted 7-0 to create a César Chávez holiday. It was pretty much a done deal. But that doesn't mean it was easy.

I talked with Cam Juarez, chair of the Arizona César E. Chávez Holiday Coalition since 2013, to get the back story, the work behind the Tuesday vote. He filled in some of the details.

Tucson is actually late to the table in creating César E. Chávez Day. Pima County voted for the holiday in October, 2001. The cities of Phoenix and Tempe, not exactly bastions of liberalism, celebrate the holiday. So does South Tucson. And California's official César Chávez holiday is twenty years old. That puts a bit of perspective on people's concern over the money the holiday will cost Tucson. True, it will cost an estimated $500,000, but this isn't "the People's Republic of Tucson" going it alone, making some expensive, radical statement. Tuesday's vote is really about the city playing catch-up, doing what it should have done long ago.

The Arizona César E. Chávez Holiday Coalition has been around since 2001, when it formed to help create the Pima County holiday. It has continued to work in an organizing and educational capacity, sponsoring the annual Chávez march and the Cesar E. Chavez Youth Leadership Conference.

The Farm Workers Union was formed in 1962 by Chávez and Delores Huerta, just over 50 years ago. A film, "Cesar Chavez," will be released this year. The time felt right for Tucson to create a holiday. City Council member Regina Romero began hammering out the details in Fall, 2013, to make it a reality. The César E. Chávez Holiday Coalition talked with council members and Mayor Rothschild individually to make sure they all had input and understood the process. They worked with labor as well to make sure there was agreement about the provisions of the holiday affecting city workers.

At Tuesday's city council meeting, a number of people spoke in favor of the holiday, including Chávez's grandson Alexjandro Chávez, Tucson Black Chamber of Commerce President Clarence Boykins and, of course, Dolores Huerta, who received numerous ovations as she spoke. The council's 7-0 vote was greeting with applause and cheers.

Cam Juarez, who is also a TUSD board member, discussed the importance of the holiday for him. "When I think of myself as an activist and community organizer," he said, "I look to Martin Luther King and Gandhi, of course, but most of all I think of César Chávez and Delores Huerta. They taught us how to take our place at the table. Getting this holiday was a collaborative effort," he continued, "and like all collaborative efforts, it was difficult, but an incredible group of individuals helped make it happen. What a day!"

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