Phoenix activist group tries to get Chávez a state holiday

By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, April 5, 2004

PHOENIX - The same group that tried to get an initiative on the November ballot to keep bars open longer now champions a paid state holiday honoring labor organizer César Chávez.

Arizona United, a group of about 20 college-aged students from Phoenix, have begun collecting petition signatures to let voters decide whether they want the holiday, which would fall on March 31 - Chávez's birthday.

The leap from wanting a later last call to recognizing the achievements of the human rights advocate born near Yuma is not as incongruous as it seems, said Gabriel Cruz, an Arizona United member and initiative spokesman.

"Our group is about any positive change you can bring the state," Cruz said.

Cruz said a day recognizing Chávez would counteract what he described as closed-minded and anti-immigrant legislation that has emerged in the Legislature over the years.

"It is apparent there is an anti-immigrant sentiment in Arizona based on other legislation." Cruz said. "We want to show Arizona in a positive way. ... (Chávez) represents a section of Arizona's economy that still goes unnoticed."

Cruz said the group is trying to garner support for its signature drive. The campaign begins this weekend and Arizona United plans on holding fund-raisers to pay for full-time petition circulators.

The group has until the end of June to gather 122,612 signatures.

Cruz said the group has abandoned its efforts to extend bar-closing time until 3 a.m. to focus on the Chávez holiday. A bill moving through the Legislature would extend closing time until 2:30 a.m.

Cruz hopes the group will team with Hispanic and human rights organizations across the state to gather support for the effort.

"He is one of Arizona's foremost humanitarians and we want to promote Arizona's legacy of working for equality," Cruz said.

The UA renamed the Economics building after Chávez in September. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Chávez's brother spoke at the event.

The proposed initiative will likely have the support of UA's Hispanic community, said Socorro Carrizosa, Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs director.

"I would definitely support it," Carrizosa said. "I think it would be wonderful for the state to recognize a native son ... who stood for nonviolence and really lived a just life."

Ramona Corrales, director of the Somerton Chicanos Por La Causa, said she agreed that Chávez deserved a paid state holiday.

"I wish it would be more than just a holiday," Corrales said. "He contributed a lot to our community. ... He looked out for a certain group that no other organizer did."

Bertha Ojeda, a self-help director at the Chicanos Por La Causa in Nogales said Chávez's contributions as a humanitarian touched the lives of people of many cultures.

"I think he was a great person who did a lot for a lot of people," Ojeda said.

Chávez founded the National Farm Workers Association, which later merged with another farm labor union to become the United Farm Workers. He led California grape pickers on a successful five-year strike to protest poor working conditions.

Following his death in 1993, buildings across the state donned Chávez's name, and California has a paid holiday in his name.

Other states, including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, observe days of recognition.