by Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz
Despite the unwanted frigid air and snow on the ground on March 30th, the 18th annual César E. Chávez Day Celebration continued to celebrate the legacy and life of César Chávez. César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver (CCPJCD) founders, Charlene Barrientos Ortiz, Ramón Del Castillo, and Toby Leroux, canceled the march to keep community members safe and moved the event to Su Teatro in west Denver, after the traditional mass at Regis University’s Saint John Francis Chapel.
At Su Teatro, friends, families, candidates, and organizations united in support of César Chávez’s life, but they also came to promote their work, support community members receiving awards, and to enjoy the day with music and food.
Governor Jared Polis surprised guests by reading a State of Colorado Proclamation. The Governor standing on the second floor of Su Teatro, read, “…Whereas, César Chávez advocated nonviolence and contended that, ‘Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves.’ Therefore, I, Jared Polis, Governor of the State of Colorado, do hereby proclaim March 31st, 2019 as César Chávez Day.” He concluded his speech to the community with “Sí, se puede,” with all joining in the popular justice slogan.
The Committee presented the award ceremony. This year’s awardees included, Chicano muralist and award-winning artist, Leo Tanguma was given the Anciano Award; Carlota EspinoZa, a Chicana muralist an nationally highlighted artist was presented with the Anciana Award; the Youth Leadership Award was given to Gianella Millan; Organization Leadership Award was presented to the Denver Classroom Teachers Association; Adult Male Leadership Award was given to Juan Gallegos, and Adult Male Leadership Award was presented to Jay Jaramillo.
“We feel very proud that we can highlight people who imbody [and represents] the work of César Chávez,” said Barrientos Ortíz.
Each year, the organizers and founders of CCPJCD select a theme. This year it was “Social Justice and Activism as Healing Remedies.”
Barrientos Ortíz said that the celebration this year, and the speakers added generational healing that allowed people to find a culture and embrace the power within the culture.
The event organizations and candidates tabled to provide information for what they do and want to achieve. Organizations like Latina Safehouse and STARS Kid Care promoted their service. Denver candidates, Lisa Calderón, Debbie Ortega, and Candi CdeBaca voiced their concerns and missions for the community to better the people of Denver.
The Latina Safehouse, a non-profit dedicating to serving Latina survivors and their children of domestic violence, took the opportunity to speak with those attending the event. Angela Ceseña, the Executive Director, and Marcia-Lena Hernández, the Board Secretary, invited guests to their table to know more about their organization. They have been around for 15 years and Ceseña describes that “the amount of time that we work with every family and every woman, it really varies. It’s a case by case bases, so we can work with them potentially for a few days, a week, or for years. It really depends on their healing process.” Latina Safehouse, and Angela Ceseña, wants women that survived domestic violence know that they are not alone, and Latina Safehouse has people who can speak in their language and be culturally sensitive.
Another local business presenting a booth at the event, was STARS Kid Care, an organization that is bilingual, culturally diverse, and for children in K-8. STARS Kid Care accepts Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) and overall stands for Safety, Teamwork, Activities, Respect, and Service (STARS). It is done through games, snack times, homework help, and crafts.
Whether it is before and/or after school care, summer camps, or school breaks, STARS “helps kids with their homework but only for about an hour a day. We want them to go play, to go out onto field trips to places where they wouldn’t normally go, and we want to give them experiences that they wouldn’t have if they were just at home,” Diane Irvin, an administrator with STARS Kid Care said about the program.
Candi CdeBaca, City Council Candidate for Denver’s District 9, is 5th generation from District 9, and before she decided to run for City Council, she has been to the annual César E. Chávez Day Celebration along with other community events driven by the culture and by the political justice. She also worked for the César Chávez Foundation with César Chávez’s granddaughter. She began her run for City Council because she noticed many of her friends and families that live in District 9 can’t afford to live there anymore. “I think in a time of growth like we are experiencing, that’s unacceptable. I think we need leadership that is prioritizing the people in this city who are here, and who built the city and not just the people who will want to come to the city,” said CdeBaca.
Denver City Council At-Large member, Debbie Ortega, who is running for reelection, sees how gentrification impacts the community. Ortega stated, “I am doing this because I love our city and public policy is where you can make a difference. With our city changing so drastically, it is critically important that we have people that not only understands how the city works but has a genuine commitment to making sure that we continue to have affordable housing where we are a city where everybody can afford to live here.”
Lisa Calderón, Candidate for Denver Mayor, is an alumna from Metropolitan State University of Denver where Ramón Del Castillo was her mentor during her undergrad and encouraged her to get go beyond her bachelor’s degree. She expressed her goal for the community by saying, it is “to essentially bring the people who have been ignored in prosperity of the city to the decision-making table. We are number one in terms of Denver for Latino displacement. We are being pushed out. It’s a new form of redlining where Brown and Black bodies are being used for our labor, but we are not having space created for us to share in the profits; so I want to make sure that we are strengthening our core neighborhoods and that our cultural communities remain intact. Gentrification is not inevitable.”
Calderón, being a combination of both cultures with her father being African-American and her mother being Mexican-American and having deep roots in social justice from both sides, looks at the commonalities within both communities. With that she can bring a community center approach to governing by allowing everyone in to make decision-making process.
Overall, Barrientos Ortíz expressed the mission of CCPJCD as “our mission is to pay tribute and homage to the ideals of justice and non-violence embodied by César E. Chávez as one of the América’s greatest leaders, whose legacy for global working-class interests and whose contributions towards peace and humanity for all should be remembered and practiced.”
During the event, for once, I felt like I belonged, and that feeling Barrientos Ortíz hopes others feel as well.
Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz is student at Metropolitan State University and Intern at The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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