César Chávez March for Justice organizer Ernest Martinez wanted to keep young voices at the forefront of the conversation. So akin to last year’s march, 17 high school students from Lanier High School will lead Saturday’s march in honor of those who died in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“No matter where you were at last year, you heard about the March For Our Lives movement,” Martinez said, referring to the groundswell of activism started by students of Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “We’re truly committed to the community, we’re committed to hearing the voices of these young people. … Gun violence is still present, [it’s still an] issue in schools. We’re going to continue that tradition, keeping that issue out front and center.”

March For Our Lives supporters participated in marches and rallies across the country on March 24, 2018, the date of last year’s César Chávez March.

Saturday marks San Antonio’s 23rd annual César Chávez March for Justice. Martinez, who chairs the César E. Chávez Legacy and Educational Foundation (CECLEF), said his father, Jaime, was inspired to commemorate Chávez after attending his funeral in 1993.

“For a week he was in a constant state of thought, and I’ll never forget the conversation. I was in the living room, and my dad all of the sudden said, ‘Mijo, we have to do something for César here in San Antonio.’ I had no idea what he meant.”

Four years after Chávez died, Jaime Martinez marched with fewer than 100 community members and activists to honor the labor leader and civil rights activist. Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with Chávez, served as that year’s grand marshal.

Martinez’s father continued to talk to Chávez’s family and foundation in California year after year. He started CECLEF and taught San Antonio students about Chávez’s work, which helped mobilize the younger generation, Martinez said.

“My dad was a charismatic, strong human rights activist, labor rights activist,” said Martinez, who took up the leadership mantle in 2017 after Jaime died. He hopes to continue to encourage the spirit of youth activism. One of his first moves was to expand the march’s outreach to include digital billboards and social media campaigns, in an effort to capture a younger audience.

“I can tell by the phone calls and emails [that] we’re getting more people reaching out to us than we did in the past,” he said.

More than 15,000 people marched last year, Martinez said, and he expects that many — if not more — to show up on Saturday. The grand marshal this year is César L. Chávez, grandson of the labor rights champion.

Roland Cevallos gets ready for the Official 21st Anniversary Cesar E. Chavez March For Justice.
Roland Cevallos carries a flag for the United Farm Workers, which grew out of César Chávez’s National Farm Workers Association. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The 1.9 mile march starts at 10 a.m. on Brazos and Guadalupe streets by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and ends at Hemisfair. Marchers can bring canned food to donate at the beginning of the march. And before the march starts, people can participate in a 5K run/walk, as well as a kid’s fun run, starting at 8 a.m. Registration on race day is $35 for the 5K and $10 for the fun run. Proceeds from the run go toward CECLEF’s scholarship fund.

Martinez said the City of San Antonio contributed more to the march than in prior years, giving $75,000 to cover march operations, production, and outreach. Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) was instrumental in getting that funding, Martinez said.

Gonzales praised Martinez’s work with the foundation and on the march since his father passed away. There was a dip in participation while Jaime was sick, she said, but attendance numbers rose last year.

“He’s done a good job of marketing the event better,” she said. “I thought by having the City more involved, we could highlight the work of César Chávez and the march that starts here on Guadalupe Street.”

Bexar County also contributed enough to cover Park & Ride services from VIA Metropolitan Transit. County Commissioner Justin Rodriguez (Pct. 2) said he’s enjoyed seeing the march evolve, especially since it takes place in his precinct. He said he hopes it continues to expand in the future.

“I think it’s certainly possible that it can grow potentially as large, if not larger, than the MLK March,” he said. “That’s been a source of pride for all San Antonians for years, that we have one of the largest MLK marches in the country. If we can say that in similar vein to the César Chávez March, then I think it says a lot about the fortitude and compassion of people in San Antonio and I think certainly we’re going to strive for that.”

Marchers can take advantage of two VIA Park & Ride stations: the downtown University of Texas at San Antonio parking lots on Dolorosa Street at Pecos La Trinidad Street and Alamodome parking lots B and C on Cherry Street. Service to the march runs 8-10 a.m., and return service runs until 3 p.m. from Old Bowie Street next to the Institute of Texan Cultures’ Gate 4.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.