Chants of “Si se puede!” and “Vive César!” resounded across the west side of Santa Barbara Saturday afternoon when area residents —with a colorful rally and celebration — marked what would have been the 87th birthday of labor leader and immigrant advocate César Chávez. The rally began at the Westside Community Center and ended with food, dancing, and speeches at the Westside Boys & Girls Club. Also honored were Selma Rubin and former city councilmember Babatunde Folayemi, two longtime area activists who recently passed away.
Spectators of the march showed their support by clapping and cheering as about 200 participants — including indigenous dancers and women rollerbladers — filled the street carrying red banners and flags reading “Organize!” “ No Grapes!” and “Vive La Causa, Vive La Guelga!”
Among the marchers were Rogelio Trujillo and George Solinas, two of Cháves’s close friends. Trujillo described Chávez as a tough, smart, and thoughtful man, and Solinas later read an original poem in his friend’s honor.
Folayemi’s widow, Akivah Northern, spoke of her husband’s tireless activism, which began as a young child. Northern talked about Folayemi’s work mediating peace between gangs in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, and also about his activism work in Africa.
Guadalupe Romero called for traffic signals at Milpas Street intersections in a touching address commemorating her son, Sergio, who was just 15 years old when he was struck by a truck and killed in a Milpas crosswalk last October.
Tomas Avila-Carrasco payed respect to the workers of Santa Barbara. “We need a working wage for all of Santa Barbara starting at $10-15 an hour,” Avila-Carrasco stated. Avila-Carrasco will earn a PhD in Chicano studies from UCSB this June.
Art and Judy Stevens, two quasi-retired Episcopal ministers who trekked 75 miles last summer through the Sonaran desert to better appreciate the journey traversed by thousands of immigrants into the United States each year, described Cháves as a man of faith. “He loved his god; he loved his neighbor” they said.
City and county elected officials also spoke in honor of Cháves, including Mayor Helene Schneider, Councilmember Cathy Murillo, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, and Santa Barbara Unified School District trustee Monique Limón.
The event was emceed by Radio Bronco’s Tere Jurado, and all of the banner artwork was done by artist Carlos Cuellar. Many organizations staffed tables, including Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN), the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, and the Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST).
Organizers said they plan on making next year’s event even larger and with more entertainment.