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New Mexico holiday proposed for Cesar Chavez, Dennis Chavez

January 7, 2019
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In this 1965 file photo, a Cesar Chavez, a farm worker labor organizer and leader of the California grape strike, speaks from a Delano, Calif., union office. A New Mexico state lawmaker is proposing a state holiday in honor of the Yuma, Arizona-born Chavez and the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez of New Mexico. (AP Photo, George Brich, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A state lawmaker is proposing a state holiday in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez of New Mexico and the late farmworker union leader Cesar Chavez of California.

New Mexico Rep. Miguel P. Garcia has pre-filed a bill that would designate the first Friday of every April as “Dennis Chavez and Cesar Chavez Day” to honor two Hispanic figures who played a key role in Latino civil rights.

The proposal comes 17 years after New Mexico voters rejected a constitutional amendment to create a state holiday in honor of Cesar Chavez.

But Garcia said he decided to try again to push a Chavez holiday because New Mexico now has a more diverse state Legislature and he believed the new governor would be receptive.

“This is long overdue,” Garcia said. “There are no other kinds of individuals connected to New Mexico quite like these gentlemen who regularly preached civil rights and social justice.”

Tripp Stelnicki, a spokesman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the governor has not reviewed the bill. Around 49 percent of the population in New Mexico is Hispanic.

The New Mexico-born Dennis Chavez served in the U.S. Senate from 1935 to 1962 and earned a reputation as a defender of Mexican-American civil rights. During and after World War II, Chavez held highly publicized Senate hearings in Washington, D.C., to take testimony from returning Mexican-American veterans who were being denied job opportunities and housing over their ethnicity.

The Yuma, Arizona-born Cesar Chavez co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with Dolores Huerta. The pair organized boycotts and strikes to push for better working conditions for farmworkers. Chavez spent most of his life in California but galvanized Chicano students in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his call for better farmworker wages.

Chavez and Huerta attracted the support of U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York, who visited Chavez when he broke a hunger strike.

Garcia said he didn’t include Huerta, who was born in Dawson, New Mexico, in the holiday proposal since Huerta, 88, is still alive and active in many causes. Critics have often charged that Huerta’s contributions to the United Farm Workers regularly get ignored.

However, Garcia said he supports the idea for the state to place a marker near Dawson to mark the place of her birth.

“We need to do more to honor our heroes all around,” he said.

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Associated Press journalist Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s race and ethnicity team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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