Thursday, January 06, 2011

HB 505: César Chávez Holiday To Be Eliminated in Texas? "I Don't Think so," Says Rep. Alonzo

by Texas State Representative Roberto R. Alonzo (District 104 - Dallas)
January 5, 2011

Legislation has been filed for the 82n Legislature by Texas lawmaker, State Rep. Tyron Lewis of Odessa which would eliminate "Cesar Chavez Day" as a state optional holiday in Texas. That is shameful. That is unfortunate, especially when we consider everything that the civil rights icon, human rights advocate and civil rights activist has done for the poor, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed, not only in Texas but all over the country. Rep. Lewis yesterday filed House Bill 505 which would eliminate "Cesar Chavez Day," and replace it with "Texas Hispanic Heritage Day," in Texas as an optional state holiday.

Cesar Chavez was a passionate advocate for social justice and civil rights for the poor and the disenfranchised, not only in Texas, but all over the United States. He was a role model for many hard-working average Americans, especially farm workers. He was truly an American hero and icon. Chavez rallied for and succeeded in improving the wages, schooling, housing, and other living conditions of farm workers of all ethnic backgrounds. In 1991, Chavez received one of Mexico's premier awards, Aguila Azteca (Aztec Eagle) for contributions made outside Mexico. Additionally, in 1994, he was posthumously presented with our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As a former migrant worker myself, my family and I - like so many others across every geographic corner of the great United States - are honored and humbled indeed every year when we gather in unison to commemorate the day that honors this great man, this role model and giant, and the many accomplishments he achieved so that the rest of us could have a better quality of life and success in the future.

I am certain Chavez's legacy will impact positively our children and our grandchildren in much the same way, even if they did not get to live during his lifetime, or ever set foot on the toiling and unpleasant soils of a hot migrant field like so many of us did while growing up with our poor families. Chavez's decades of experiences on the hot and toiling migrant fields transcended more than just farmworkers alone; those experiences live and continue to this day and impact daily the lives of so many of us in many ways. Chavez was an icon for labor and civil rights, championing the causes of minorities and the poor for many decades before he died at 66 on April 23, 1993. Whether it was rounding up everyday workers on or off the migrant fields, rallying support in our local communities, boycotting at our supermarkets, or even speaking before local, state, or federal agencies or congressional committees, Chavez consistently rallied for and succeeded in improving the wages, schooling, housing, and other living conditions of farm workers and average day workers of all ethnic backgrounds in similar fashion. It is for this very reason that session after session, I consistently filed and will continue to file and support legislation that recognizes the legacy and many achievements of Cesar Chavez. During the 81st legislative session in 2009, I authored and successfully passed two house resolutions, commemorating the birth, significant contributions, and death of Chavez. The first House Resolution, HR 300, honored the life of Cesar E. Chavez on March 31, 2009, by commemorating the 82nd anniversary of his birth. Likewise, HR 308 honored the life of Cesar Chavez and recognized the month beginning March 31, 2009, as Cesar Chavez Farmworker Appreciation Month in Texas. And in 2010, HR 324 and HR 325, respectively, paid the same tributes to Chavez in Texas in the same annual tradition. And respectfully and appropriately, I have done the same for the 82nd session which will start next week, through HR 26 and HR 27, for the years 2011 and 2012, respectively.

And in early February 2010, I was among the first of a growing list of public officials at the local, county, state, and federal levels alike, along with a number of other civic and business leaders, in Dallas who applauded members of the Dallas City Council on the brave and historical vote they took when they renamed Cesar Street in Dallas. The council voted unanimously to rename the stretch of South Central Expressway between Pacific Avenue and Grand Avenue as Cesar Chavez Street in recognition of all the exemplary achievements by this great icon.

In short, I find the filing of HB 505 by my colleague Rep. Lewis eliminating Cesar Chavez Day in Texas as an optional holiday, as a slap in the face, not only to migrant farmworkers, but to Hispanics all over the state and nation, but most particularly in Texas where we have already become the majority population in the state, and growing. The monumental civil rights icon, labor rights activists, representative for so many average day workers deserves better. By eliminating Cesar Chavez Day as a holiday in Texas we are in essence turning back history and telling all Hispanics, particularly our children and grandchildren, that if you accomplish great things and make a positive difference in improving the quality of life for others, you will not be recognized if you are a migrant, Hispanic, or other minority. That to me, is shameful. HB 505 is nothing more than an ultra-conservative, right-wing, anti-Hispanic, and anti-immigrant measure that will only serve to continue to hold back and reverse the advancements that we as Hispanics have struggled so much and hard for to improve the lives of Hispanics all over Texas and the nation.

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