The César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver (CCPJC) celebrated their 17th Annual César Chávez March last Saturday. Hundreds of community members and organizations gathered in front of the St. John Francis Regis Chapel located on the Regis University Campus, and appropriately ended the march at the César E. Chávez Park, on 41st Ave. and Tennyson St. in north Denver.
After marching close to 2 miles, attendees were met with live music from The Mighty Nice Band, food, and various vendor booths.
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo, co-founder of the CCPJC and Chair of the Chicana/o Studies Department and Professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, led the march with familiar chants and rhythmic phrases.
The traditional Marcha offers opportunities for the community to participate. This year Dusti Gurule, Executive Director for COLOR, guided the procession holding an image of La Virgin de Guadalupe, leading the marchers to their destination, safely and with intention.
Bystanders watched as the hundreds of people walked down Lowell Blvd., stopping on 46th Avenue to bless that point with Azteca Danza from both Grupo Tlaloc and Grupo Azteca Huitzilopochtli, filling the nearby Rocky Mountain Park with sage smoke and sounds of drumming mixed with oyote shells shaking in rhythm.
DREAMER, Alejandro Flores spoke to the crowd through the bullhorn, sharing his story and current work with the organization Mi Familia Vota, which works to expand voter rights and outreach.
Flores spoke with El Semanario, as a first-time attendee of the Denver march, stating the importance of this event and events alike.
“We need to show presence and show that we are not afraid of what’s happening,” said Flores. “The sentiment around immigration with the current administration is really against immigrants and if we just stand back and do nothing, we’re going to be trampled upon. We’re here in numbers and we are not going to stand back.”
The crowd moved forth with the Denver Police Department standing as allies, blocking off roads for the Procession to move along safely.
One of the many onlookers was manager at the Berkeley Park Running Company, Phillip Snyder, who although was a first-time spectator was “culturally aware of César Chávez and the Si Se Puede movement,” said Snyder.
“Being a manager – a business owner – of a business that’s in a neighborhood that has been predominately Hispanic, historically in Denver, and is now becoming very gentrified. I am a white boy myself, but I see what’s going on in the neighborhood and hopefully, as a business, we try to be respectful to who was here before us and who is still here.” Snyder added.
Each year, the CCPJC of Denver honors individuals whose ideals and advocacy are aligned with the work of César Chávez and the United Farm Workers. This year’s César Chávez Leadership Award recipients included: Guadalupe Jaquez/César Chávez Youth Female Leadership Award; Eric Perez/César Chávez Youth Male Leadership Award; Jeanette Vizguerra/César Chávez Adult Female Leadership Award; José Guardiola/César Chávez Adult Male Leadership Award and Veronica and George Autobee/César Chávez Anciana/o Activist Award.
Long-time activist and Colorado State Representative Adrienne Benavidez of House District 32, remembered Chávez as “one of those leaders that spoke to all people.”
Rep. Benavidez reminisced her coming of age story in the 1970’s where she started working with the United Farmworkers, picketing Safeway stores.
“Here is a man that created a movement without any money; people were being paid five dollars a week, and he (Chávez) was asking people to house them. He made this an international movement,” said Benavidez, while mentioning that this was all achieved before the Internet and was successful by just word of mouth.
“I believe he did it because he believed in the dignity of each of us as an individual,” added the State Rep.
The march was filled with many familiar faces, some new, and some who haven’t attended in a few years.
Colorado organization, La Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (SPMDTU), the oldest Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States hasn’t marched in over a decade.
“We have similar goals with this event, especially education for students who may not have an opportunity elsewhere, whether it be economical or just the exposure,” explained Ralph Maestas, SPMDTU President of Council #7, Denver. “We felt it was important to support this event, since we are parallel to this event, it’s what our group does.”
The SPMDTU is currently undergoing a renovation of its Concilio Superior headquarters built in 1925 in Antonito, Colorado. They’ve also been awarded $193,361 from the Colorado State Historical Fund (SHF) of Denver for 2018-2020.
Denver City Councilman, District 3, Paul López was one of the familiar faces, as he has attended the march annually since its inception, 17 years ago.
“It’s important because we have to remember the philosophy of César Chávez and why we celebrate this day; to remember that you can bring about change in a non-violent way, and that’s for everybody,” stated Councilman López. “It started with the farmworkers and their cause and it’s moved onto our community and our various causes.”
Cover Photo: DREAMER, Alejandro Flores speaks at Denver César Chávez March, and Ramón Del Castillo, Co-Founder of the César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver.
by Chanel Ward
Chanel Ward, El Semanario Intern, is a student at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and a Peer Advocate for the Scholar Success Program.