April 2, 2004

An Open Letter

Let us celebrate César Chávez

March is the month that we celebrate the birth of a great man who forever changed the face of the labor movement in the United States. In addition, this month has traditionally been a time to honor California’s Women of the Year for their important contributions to society. We also face the ongoing challenge of seeking to help those in our communities who have become addicted to drugs or alcohol so that they may have the opportunity to recover-this month and year-round. We have much to be thankful for in our Golden State, but there are many issues that we need to be aware of, including the unfortunate and shocking occurrences of hate crimes.

Cesar Chavez was a legendary leader, a dynamic activist and a humanitarian who cared deeply about the people who struggle to care for the world-renowned produce that all of America enjoys. As we reflect on his life and the impact he had on our great state, it’s important that we remember what he stood for, what he fought for and how his actions not only improved the plight of California’s farmworkers, but the community as a whole.

The first meeting of the National Farm Workers Union (NFWU) was held in September of 1962 in Fresno, California, with 300 members in attendance. The farmworkers demanded better pay and working conditions. Supporters followed Cesar Chavez’s lead and the movement grew and evolved into the United Farm Workers Union as it is presently known. Today, the UFW is more than 20,000 members strong, and the movement continues to take on new challenges in the ongoing quest for the fair treatment of farmworkers. To learn more about the legacy of Cesar Chavez, please visit www.ufw.org.

Recent events in my hometown of Fresno have been beyond disturbing-in our state’s most bountiful farmland, tragedy has rocked the community and garnered the attention of the nation. The Gurdwara Sahib Temple was defaced in blue paint with angry sentiments, the milder of which was “It’s not your country.” We cannot tolerate hatred as a society; it erodes the very foundation of our communities. In 2002, more than 1,600 hate crimes were reported in the State of California, and of those, more than 1,200 were violent. We live in a state that is known for celebrating diversity, yet hate crimes continue to occur.

The Sikh community is an integral part of California; they are our neighbors, our doctors, business associates and friends. After reading the sad news about the temple, I was reminded of the importance of speaking out about such acts so that people will be aware of what is happening in their communities. On March 16, I held a press conference with community leaders to stand up against this alarming trend across the nation. Diversity education is one of the keys to unlocking the potential of our state, a goal that can only be reached with mutual understanding among all of the people of California.

On March 15, it was my pleasure to name Barbara E. Kerr, President of the California Teachers Association, as my honoree for Woman of the Year. As the sole constitutional officer participating in this event, I wanted to find a person who has had an impact on the entire state-an individual who is an outstanding leader with a unique talent for bringing people together for a common cause. Barbara Kerr is such a person. In a teaching career that has spanned nearly three decades, Ms. Kerr has been a tireless advocate for California’s children and teachers, and has dedicated herself to ensuring a quality education for future generations of Californians.

This past weekend, I participated in the annual California Walk for Recovery, which helps bring awareness about the need for drug and alcohol recovery programs. As you know, substance abuse is a serious problem in our society. Not only are the abusers at risk, everyone around that person suffers. Please take a moment to consider the following statistics from the Walk for Recovery Web site:

* 14.5 million Americans aged 12 or older have a dependence on or abuse of either alcohol or illicit drugs.

* Alcohol-related accidents are the leading cause of death among young people, ages 12-14.

* Drug abusers have medical costs three times higher than others, which increases all insurance premiums.

* Four times as many Americans died in drunk-driving accidents than were killed in the Vietnam War.

* 47% of industrial accidents and 40% of industrial deaths can be linked to substance abuse.

Particularly disturbing is the increase of substance abuse by California’s children. Without education and parental involvement, this is a trend that we are not likely to see reversed. If anyone you know has ever had a substance abuse problem, you should think about the statistics above, then consider participating in this worthwhile event. For more information please visit www.walkforrecovery.org

Thank you for your concern about community issues. I welcome you to email me at Cruz.Bustamante@ltg.ca.gov.

Lieutenant Governor
State of California

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