Chants of thousands in unison saying, “Sí, se puede” and “Un pueblo unido jamás será vencido,” filled the air in parts of downtown San Antonio for the 27the annual César E. Chávez March for Justice. “Yes, we can.” “The people united will never be defeated.”

The 3-mile march began on the West Side near the Guadalupe Theater on Guadalupe and Brazos streets, where groups held their signs in excitement and anticipation. The procession of thousands of people led through Southtown and into Hemisfair. 

The San Antonio community gathered on Guadalupe Street to start their walk to Hemisfair for the 27th annual César E. Chávez March for Justice on Saturday.

Several labor union organizations joined the march, holding signs and wearing t-shirts that said, “Rest breaks are a right,” “Justice for indigenous women,” “We overcame what can destroy us” and “Viva Chávez.”

A Bexar County sheriff’s deputy told the San Antonio Report he estimated about 35,000 to 40,000 people marched.

Leading the march, Mayor Ron Nirenberg was joined by San Antonio first lady Erika Prosper Nirenberg, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales, City Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) and Tejano star Little Joe, among others. 

José María De León Hernández, known as "Little Joe", leads the 27th annual Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice next to Mayor Ron Nirenberg on Saturday.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg (center, in red shirt) and others lead the 27th annual César E. Chávez March for Justice on Saturday.

The march, hosted by the César E. Chávez Educational Foundation and the City of San Antonio, was held days before the city’s observance of César Chávez Day, the late advocate’s birthday, on March 31.

People who marched on Saturday marched for what Chávez believed in. The Mexican American civil rights leader and activist fought starting in the 1960s for the rights of immigrant labor workers, many of whom worked on farms, who were being exploited. 

San Antonio members of the AFL-CIO also attended, representing 36 local labor unions with at least 200 union members, including postal workers, teachers, bus operators and airport employees.

“A part of it is to remember the work that went into representing the field workers,” said Tom Cummins, president of the AFL-CIO’s San Antonio council. “A lot was gained, but it’s not over. In fact, it’s going back to the poor treatment, so a part of it is to keep that remembrance so we’re ready to act again.”

Cummins said Chávez had the vision, will and fortitude to organize farmworkers to get solutions, like better living conditions, contracts and better pay. 

“We’re here to commemorate the struggle that’s gone on and to remind ourselves we need to [continue] the struggle,” Cummins said.

The 27th annual César E. Chávez March for Justice was attended by an estimate of 35,000 people on Saturday.
The 27th annual César E. Chávez March for Justice was attended by an estimated 35,000-40,000 people Saturday.

José María De León Hernández, who goes by Little Joe, attended the march ahead of his performance Friday at the Guadalupe Theater for the César E. Chávez Day Celebration, hosted by the César E. Chávez Educational Foundation.

“I’ve been supporting this march since the beginning, the very, very first one,” said Little Joe, who said he was very good friends with Chávez and fellow labor activist Dolores Huerta. His song “Que Viva la Huelga” talks about la raza — the people who work hard and fight for their cause. 

“We’re brothers, we’re migrants. For our rights, we must march,” says the song in Spanish. 

Little Joe was a first-generation farmworker, working the fields in Temple since before the age of 15, he said. With his brothers and sisters, and his mom and dad, he endured the very things Chavez fought against.

Javier Román has attended every annual Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice.
Javier Román said he has attended San Antonio’s annual César E. Chávez march since it started in 1997. Credit: Brenda Bazán / San Antonio Report

Javier Román was at the march with his wife, Linda. The two have attended every year since it started nearly three decades ago, he said. While he marched, he meditated on migrant workers and their challenges that still exist today. 

“The abuse they are subjected to, the lack of proper benefits, it’s still there. What César Chávez did was, and is, still important,” said Román. 

Somewhere behind him in the crowds, his 6-year-old and 7-year-old granddaughters marched alongside “veteran activists,” he said. 

“I hope they’re able to grow up in a better world and they’re able to understand that justice should be applied to everybody. Justice has no owner, it’s general,” said Román. 

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.