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'Cesar Chavez gave us a voice': Community honors civil rights leader, looks to the future

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Posted at 6:15 PM, Mar 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 19:37:11-04

MILWAUKEE — Virtual events involving state and local Latino leaders and as well as art and performances took place on Wednesday to celebrate Cesar Chavez Day. Chavez, along with Dolores Huerta, founded the United Farm Workers Labor Union and advocated for migrant worker rights.

During one celebration honoring Chavez's legacy, State Rep. Sylvia Ortiz Velez (D-8th District) and Milwaukee Register of Deeds Israel Ramón shared stories of how their families were impacted by the activist's work.

Ramón shared that his father came to the United States in the 1950s at age 13 to pick peaches in Georgia, before moving to California to do farm work there.

"They had no voice, they had no rights, they had no working conditions. That was until Cesar Chavez gave us a voice."

Rep. Ortiz Velez shared a similar story.

"My mother came to Wisconsin in the 1960s to pick strawberries in Sussex. And Cesar Chavez, he fought for the dignity and good working conditions for so many migrant farmworkers and their families," Rep. Ortiz Velez said.

She credits Chavez and the work he did for giving her the chance to be in the position she is in today representing Wisconsin's 8th Assembly District.

"We wouldn't have had the opportunity to be here if it wasn't for people like him. So, he really opened up the door to give us this opportunity to serve our communities," she said.

But still, she wants more seats at the table for Latinos in decision-making roles. Right now she said there are four Latino members of the Wisconsin State Assembly. That's just 4%. She also said that currently there are no Latino state senators. However, Latinos make up just over 7% of Wisconsin's population.

Rep. Ortiz Velez said she hopes to see those numbers grow in the future.

The Marcus Performing Arts Center also held an event celebrating Cesar Chavez through art and performance.

"It's important for our community to continue to celebrate Cesar Chavez. He is someone our youth can look up to as a tremendous role model of hard work and determination," said Jacobo Lovo with Latino Arts Inc.

And Cesar Chavez's impact can also be seen on Cesar Chavez Dr. in Milwaukee where there is a statue and murals inspired by the activist.

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