The two activists most famous for advancing the rights of farmworkers and Latinos will receive monuments in the heart of Napa, as statues of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta are slated for unveiling Sunday afternoon.
The debut of the life-size statues of Chavez and Huerta, co-founders of the United Farm Workers, will be the highlight of a downtown celebration from 1 to 5:30 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Park. Huerta, now 84, also is scheduled to speak at the dedication, according to Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, an event organizer.
Organizers also plan dancing, mariachi music, and a performance by the guitarist Jorge Santana, brother of the rock legend Carlos Santana.
Sponsors of the celebration have announced plans after the ceremony to install the statues, which are being made by the Napa artist Mario Chiodo, in an outdoor second-floor niche at Velo Pizzeria, a building owned by Michael L. Holcomb, the developer paying for the monuments.
In a Register interview last month, Holcomb said he did not ask the city to install the statues permanently at Veterans Park because the site is dedicated to members of the military and “I didn’t want to open up that debate.”
However, he and Pedroza say the statues may become part of a traveling roadshow to schools and other institutions to educate residents about Chavez, Huerta and their work to bolster the rights and working conditions of farm laborers.
“Having a traveling roadshow gives people an opportunity to learn the story, and also to remember personal stories they have of the farmworker movement,” Holcomb said Monday. “A lot of people in Napa County were part of that movement.”
Holcomb, whose wife is Mexican-American, emphasized the value of honoring not only Chavez and Huerta, but a Latino community that comprises more than a third of the county population and is tightly bound to its vineyards and wineries.
“I thought it would be nice to honor him for what he did for the working-class people and the people who work in the fields of Napa,” he said Sunday. “We have lots of talk about the top end of (Napa society), but as for the people who toil every day, I have never seen any recognition given to them.”
The Napa ceremony is being tied to March 31 — Cesar Chavez Day, an official state holiday and the birthday of the labor organizer, who died in 1993.
Through a series of strikes, marches and boycotts — most famously the shunning of table grapegrowers in the Central Valley — the United Farm Workers came to represent more than 50,000 field workers by the late 1970s, but achieved less success in the Napa Valley.
The union eventually reached contracts with the Charles Krug, Christian Brothers and other wineries, but many of those pacts eventually lapsed through winery buyouts by corporations, worker decertification votes, and wineries’ gradual move toward nonunionized vineyard management companies.
Despite the union’s lower profile in the wine country, the activism of Chavez and Huerta elsewhere in the state put enough pressure on grapegrowers to raise wages and improve workplace conditions, if only to dissuade their own workers from joining the farmworkers’ union, according to Frances Ortiz-Chavez, co-chair of the NV Latino Heritage Committee, who interviewed six Napa Valley vineyard workers from the 1960s earlier this month.
“Prior to the arrival of Chavez and Huerta, campesinos (farmworkers) described not being paid for overtime, or not being allowed to take breaks other than lunch, or to not having water around for them to drink,” Ortiz-Chavez and her interviewing partner Lilia Soto said in an email. “After the union contracts and the changes recommended by grapegrowers, the campesinos described a much better working environment. Even today, the men interviewed speak of how the Napa Valley offers better farmworker wages, some above the minimum wage.”