The fourth annual edition of the César Chávez celebration on the Western Slope took place Sunday, March 31st in Grand Junction. A crisp spring morning welcomed a couple dozen marchers carrying the United Farm Workers unmistakable logo on a bright red banner along the banks of the Colorado River to Las Colonias Park. The park’s amphitheater featured political speakers, information about community resources and folkloric dancers.
Rudy Gonzales, Executive Director of Denver-based Servicios de la Raza was on hand to speak about his father Corky’s legacy and the success of César Chávez in improving immigrant farm worker conditions. Gonzales noted that some of Colorado was once part of Mexico and encouraged the largely Latino audience to participate in this year’s elections, “We must vote. We are low propensity voters and we’ve got to walk, knock and talk to encourage our friends and neighbors to vote.” Gonzales talked about part of the state constitution which welcomed Mexicans to Colorado and urged, “We are migrants coming back to our ancestral homeland. We are descendants of the first peoples of this land. We must organize and we must come together.” Gonzales concluded his remarks with a reading from his father’s iconic poem, “Yo Soy Joaquin.”
Julissa Soto, also representing Servicios, was working the crowd to inform about the organization’s increased outreach to other parts of the state including Colorado Springs, Alamosa and Montrose. She gave credit to Jeff Kuhr, the Executive Director of Mesa County Mental Health for helping to fund their operation on the Western Slope.
One of the morning’s most dynamic speakers was Maritza Gutierrez, a community outreach worker for Cultivando, a leadership and advocacy organization serving Latinos throughout the Denver metro area and Western Slope. She asked the audience to stand and join hands to demonstrate the importance of unity, “Together we are much stronger than any of us alone.”
Information booths were aligned at one side of the park and included the Mesa County Democrats, ready to sign up new voters, Child and Migrant Services staffed to answer questions from seasonal farm workers and their families, and the Western Slope edition of the Colorado Department of Education’s migrant services providing resources for current and prospective public school students.
Western Slope politicians took advantage of the Latino audience to tout their credentials. Karl Hanlon, a Democratic candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, wants to upset Republican incumbent Scott Tipton. Hanlon reminded the crowd that, “We are a country of immigrants.” From the amphitheater stage, Hanlon told the story of his daughter vying for valedictorian of her high school and having her pick of top universities while her rival, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, a Dreamer, was going to struggle to find any university to attend. He called for reforming the immigration system and, “Simplifying the process to allow immigrants to work.”
Current Grand Junction City Councilman and former Marine, Chris Kennedy continued his quest for State Senate District 7.
The audience was comprised of all age groups and included a tight knit cadre from the Latino Student Alliance of Mesa State University. Students like Aldo Pinela belong to the organization. Pinela is a first generation native Coloradan from a Mexican immigrant family and first generation college student and will vote in only his second election this year.
Las Colonias Park
Celebrating César Chávez at Las Colonias Park is a full circle homecoming for the Latino immigrant community on the Western Slope. The 130 acre park is situated on the banks of the Colorado River near the confluence with the Gunnison River and at one point served as the neighborhood housing migrant farm workers. Mostly Mexican immigrants, the workers picked beets in nearby fields.
In 2015 the park was restored to become part of a string of recreation areas along the Colorado River. Colorado Mesa University students helped complete the park restoration project in 2015.