By Raymond R. Beltrán
As I stood on the desolate intersection of Kearney Avenue and César E. Chávez Parkway on Saturday (April 3), I awaited the long line of marchers to join for the César Chávez Parade with a friend I had brought along with me, Joel. Now, I had remembered that the parade and its organizers, the César E. Chávez Commemoration Committee, had recently been adopted by sponsors such as KPBS, the San Diego Union Tribune and Bank of America, but I thought, “It’s for César. How bad could it be?”
In asking myself this very question, I challenged history in contemplating how mainstream media and corporate chains of banks have never genuinely acted favorably on behalf of the Mexican community. Ultimately, my passion for César’s legacy interceded, and I decided to attend.
With the occupation of Iraq currently being opposed at a march near the 32nd Naval Base the very same hour, the whole ten people present at the Chávez Parade, including myself, were pleased to know that the legacy of peace that César had left behind was still being honored, and in a community he would have wished to focus on, the barrio.
“I don’t remember César Chávez marching with guns,” Joel spurts out in shock. Up north of Chávez Parkway, the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) was approaching in the lead, followed by a Missing In Action (MIA) group of military veterans and finally the San Diego Police Department immediately behind, and no, not providing protection, but in the parade. As the pro-war patriots passed, in what was supposed to be a parade honoring a non-violent Mexican leader, I attempted to once again rationalize: “Each of these militarized factions, in order of future-past-present, have all been active in contributing to the dilapidation of self-determination in Mexican communities, but they are just making their presence known, as they have for years. But they will soon pass by, and no harm will be done.”
Although, with police brutality and agitation always a standard practice within the barrios, the ROTC program targeting our young Latinos for a military career in order to attain citizenship and or an education, and MIA vets making their stories as well as their black flags one more reason not to join the military, I felt like César’s legacy was being defeated in his own parade; and to my surprise, it was only the beginning.
Luckily, San Diego City’s District 4 City Council Representative Charles Lewis made a surprise appearance. Waving with his hands in the air and smiling on the ten community residents that decided to show, he thought it best to present himself to one of the poorest, neglected communities in the county sitting upright in the backseat of, what seemed to be, a brand new convertible Mercedes Benz. Now, I never marched with César Chávez, but I did read that he had walked from Delano to Sacramento. In the event that farm workers could have afforded a Benz, wouldn’t the act of walking have made more of an accurate depiction of what César stood for? But then, I’m guilty of only speculating that Lewis was there to honor one of our heroes. Did I say “luckily?”
And to boot, Lewis is the man who along with an eleven police officer Graffiti Task Force and $1.5 million of city funds has prided himself in making over 316 arrests in District 4, which is comprised of a majority of Mexican neighborhoods.
Half way into the parade, the ten of us needed something to cheer about, but suddenly my jaw dropped to the floor in awe. The migra came to collect us all, all ten, which would have made for a quarter of a day’s work for them. As Joel and I prepared to “boo” the on-coming anti-Mexican renegades in khaki green suits, we were relieved to see that they weren’t migra at all. They were Donovan Correctional Facility Officers! The energy in the anxiousness to denigrate migra officers for marching in a César Chávez parade became a sudden need to figure out the quickest route out of the neighborhood.
With Chicano advocates coming from La Jolla, San Marcos and neighborhoods outside of this one, the prime time for me was when a real barrio advocate, Victor Ochoa, showed up with one of the only Mexican flags present at the long charade of The We-Love-Mexicans-Today Parade. He looked me dead in the eye, with my Chicano shirt on, and said, “Que Viva La Raza!” It was the only genuine act of pride all day long.
I never did find anyone to join. By the time Victor had come around, I’d been diluted and drowned out with anti-Mejicanidad factions to have the audacity to take part in such a thing. In challenging history to attend an event thrown by KPBS, the San Diego Union Tribune and Bank of America, I regret to say that I was bamboozled, by my own decision to ignore logic and have faith in a bank and mainstream media to represent my gente.
I was going to join in with the Asian dancers who appeared at the very end, but I thought it somewhat irrelevant to the purpose of being there. Joel mentioned that their presence couldn’t hurt despite the previous participants, but we decided to leave anyways.
The César E. Chávez Commemoration Committee, who organized the parade, was to hold a breakfast in culmination with the parade this week, but I thought I had commemorated their César Chávez enough.