The memory of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta now belong not only to the history books, but also to downtown Napa.
Before a festive, oft-cheering throng of more than 500 Sunday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Park, Huerta, the longtime farmworker activist, joined local dignitaries in pulling the cover off twin life-size bronze statues of herself and Chavez, who together launched the United Farm Workers of America 53 years ago.
The monument’s creators had described it as their way of immortalizing the labor leaders’ campaign to improve the lot of Mexican-American laborers, and to give farmworkers of the Napa Valley wine country their due.
But even in a celebration of her crusades from decades ago, Huerta retained the fire of her younger self, the one who with Chavez led strikes, marches and boycotts to wring better wages and working conditions from California growers. To her modern-day audience she called for continued education, political awareness and vigilance against discrimination.
“We are 55 million Latinos in the United States, but if we do not organize and get educated, we are invisible,” she said. “We have to get involved, because if we don’t do it, no one will do it for us.”
With that, she led her audience in the call-and-response of a rally:
“Who has the power?” she shouted.
“We have the power!” came the massed reply.
“What kind of power?”
The sculptures are the work of the Napa artist Mario Chiodo and were paid for by the local developer Michael L. Holcomb. He plans to install them in an outdoor second-floor niche above Velo Pizzeria, a building he owns on Main Street opposite the park.
Holcomb and Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, who organized Sunday’s dedication, also have proposed a traveling roadshow to display the monument at various local schools while also discussing the history of Chavez, Huerta and the farmworker rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
“The Napa Valley is a world destination, but it couldn’t be what it is without the people who toil and pick its grapes,” said Chiodo. “Without what Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta did, none of this could have happened here.
“I’ve worked with monuments big and small, but this one had an enormous personal meaning to me. I’ve tried to show something of their strength and courage, something they were always nonviolent about.”
“There are two amazing cultures beside each other, and yet rarely is there a chance to bring them together,” said Amelia Ceja, co-founder of Ceja Vineyards in Carneros.
On a cloudless and unseasonably warm March afternoon, the gathering was as much festival as solemn ceremony, spiced with hours of dancing, mariachi music and a concert by the guitarist Jorge Santana.
Shortly before 3 p.m., Huerta – still dark-haired and strong-voiced at 84 – made her way to a small canopy, and a surge of well-wishers 30 deep, some holding the red-black-white flag of the United Farm Workers, immediately formed to get her autograph or a smartphone photo, or simply to thank her for her labors on behalf of the once-voiceless.
“She is the most humble person, but to me she is a rock star, in the very best sense of the word,” said Ceja as she handed Huerta the microphone.
After thanking “the farmworkers of the Napa Valley who make that fine wine,” she turned her attention not toward the past, but toward the continuing battle to defend laborers rights, especially those without immigration papers.
“We know we have a lot of work to be done, especially for people who have no documents, who are afraid to stand up for their rights. … We have to continue the fight so we can get immigration reform for everybody. And we won’t get that reform until we get everyone out and vote!” she said, exclaiming the last word for emphasis as cheers rang out from the audience.
Finally, just before 3:30 p.m., Huerta and a half-dozen others gathered around a black pedestal shrouded with a cloth tarp. With a pull on the cover, two bronze life-size figures were revealed, both facing west: Chavez holding a long-handled hoe and Huerta to his left, pointing forward.
A priest led a bilingual prayer, then produced a small bottle of holy water. He sprinkled a few drops onto the monument, then passed the bottle to Huerta, who sprinkled the water onto the form of Cesar Chavez – in bronze, forever her comrade in arms.