I was introduced to Jaime P. Martinez by Rosie Castro at Panchito’s on Zarzamora Street in San Antonio’s Westside in the spring of 1997. Jaime was working on a coordinated outreach effort of the United Farm Workers (UFW). I was organizing Chicano reunions at the San Antonio Central Library under the title, “R.O.S.A.: The Treaty Resolve Convention” (referring to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo).
I sought help from Rosie at her office at the San Antonio Housing Authority, where she served as Ombudsperson. Rosie suggested I meet IUE-AFL-CIO labor leader Jaime P. Martinez and invited me to the Panchito’s event. I was director of the Inner-City Advocates under Albert A. Pena Jr. at that time. At Panchito’s, I invited Jaime to join the Inner-City Advocates as InCA’s labor law expert. It was through the InCA that Jaime and I forged a strong bond.
Jaime had recently completed organizing the Texas contingency of the Coordinadora 2000/96, or La Marcha, as the national labor coordinator, a direct response to California Proposition 187, legislation that proposed to deny undocumented immigrants access to health care and education. Jaime organized out of his District 11 IUE treasurer’s office for the San Antonio Coordinadora platform: a minimum wage hike and amnesty for undocumented immigrants. In San Antonio, Coordinadora 2000 was represented by a coalition of community leaders from many organizations and individual citizens who came together to address common issues that impacted the community.
The coalition felt that César E. Chávez was an American hero worth remembering, setting four goals in 1997: to name a major city street after Chávez, have a yearly memorial march and a Texas state holiday, and start a scholarship fund.
Jaime championed the March for Justice with sponsorship from other coalition members, while students involved in MEChA mobilized the street renaming effort led by Tony Mandujano and Henry Rodriguez. By the year 2000 Texas recognized César E. Chávez ‘s birthday as an optional state holiday. These were unique times setting the stage for our world: la causa.
My first action with Jaime occurred on Christmas day in front of the Mexican Consulate on Navarro Street. The Acteal massacre had just occurred on Dec. 22, 1997, in the small village of the Chenalho municipality of Chiapas. Forty-five people (Las Abejas) holding a prayer meeting in a church were killed.
Jaime announced a 7 a.m. press conference in front of the consulate on Christmas day. It was 39 degrees outside in a light fog. When I arrived, Jaime alone was marching to and fro with a sign. I picked up one of a dozen or so that he had brought with him, and I began to march with him. I remember him abruptly stopping. I stopped. He turned around and looked at me but did not say a word. He then continued to march – just he and I. Univision covered the action. Afterward we had breakfast together at Mi Tierra Café & Bakery. Since that cold Christmas morning, Jaime Martinez and I shared a unique relationship. We were inseparable for much of the 20 years that would follow.
In 1997, the San Antonio César E. Chávez March for Justice was born. The official march office was Jaime’s Babcock Avenue office and our official organizing location was Estella’s Mexican Restaurant on Martin Street. In 1999, I became la marcha’s march event coordinator managing its logistics, determining its route, negotiating its city politic, and maneuvering near Jaime, a mountain of a man.
In the year 2000, I negotiated la marcha‘s route to commence at Plaza Guadalupe and to end at Alamo Plaza. Jaime was strict. He was diligent – dotting his “i’s” and crossing his “t’s”. And he was fierce – a tiger. Jaime’s environment did not come with instructions or kid gloves. It was a whirlwind of organizations coordinating their actions and individuals competing for advantages with no holds barred. This was the real world of activism – 100% volunteer.
For Jaime, the César Chávez march served as a vehicle for his intense commitment to his community: a community of immigrants, a community of workers, the community of the struggling Westside. The coalition of Inner City Advocates was my outlet for activism where, side by side with Albert Pena, I coalesced with many of the same Coordinadora partners, but also activists like Peter Vallecillo, Grace Hernandez, Ralph Velasquez, Arnold Flores, NCLR, MALDEF, and the Democratic Party.
InCA joining forces with Coordinadora made our struggle in la causa a powerful force. It was in this era of solidarity that the March for Justice flourished, defending workers at KO Steel, supporting the citizens of El Cenizo, Texas, fighting in their English-only administration, supporting Fuerza Unida in its 1999 protest of Levi- Strauss’s decision to close and lay off 150 workers. Together with Jaime we marched against UT-Austin’s racist professor Lino Graglia, we championed the network television brown-out and played a strong role in the closure of the Don T. Hutto C.C.A. prison-for-profit immigrant detention center, where on Dec. 16, 2007, Jaime crossed the yellow line and yelled, “bring the toys.” He led the toy march that started Hutto prison’s cold steel meltdown as the national treasurer of LULAC with National President Rosa Rosales at his side.
With Mexico’s Jose “Pepe” Jacques-Medina, Jaime and I led the Dieciseis march in Huntington Park, California, with Chicago’s Emma Lozano we served as delegates to El Primer Parlamento de Líderes Migrantes Mexicanos que Viven en Estados Unidos de América in Mexico City, and with Arizona’s Jesus Romo and Carlos Arrango spoke to the Human Rights Commission in Mexico City supporting el Pacto de las Californias.
Jaime never claimed the illness that attached him. Rather he praised his Lord and savior Jesus Christ leading all who followed, coalesced, and challenged him, to a pathway of everlasting life. Throughout Jaime’s struggle and personal fight, I strove to balance the challenge of partnering with his strong personality, my commitment, and his illness. With Esmeraldo “Indio” Pruneda’s calm wisdom and Ernest Martinez’s good son instincts, we steered the captain’s ship through the troubled waters to our eventful destination: to deliver a leader here before us now – ready for his God to receive him, while we watch Jaime demonstrate to all of us what he professed most often:
“When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us, so it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving life do we find life, that the truest act courage, the strongest act of manliness is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice. To be a man is to suffer for others, God help us to be men.” – César Estrada Chávez