State

Civil rights leader Richard Chavez remembered

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The late civil rights leader Richard Chavez was remembered Sunday with an overnight vigil in the South Valley. The 81 year old is best known for establishing the United Farm Workers Union with his brother, Cesar Chavez.

Richard died Wednesday following a surgery in Bakersfield.

Family and friends say they're not here to mourn, they're here to celebrate the life of Richard Chavez.

The ceremony was held at the UFW complex known as Forty Acres. Richard helped build the complex to house and service migrant farm workers in the Valley.

The funeral procession for civil rights leader Richard Chavez began when the coffin he built himself was loaded onto a flat bed truck. The procession then marched through the Forty Acres complex with hundreds of family and friends following behind.

Dolores Huerta, Richard's long time girlfriend, says while his unexpected passing is difficult to take in, she knows Richard's life is one to be praised. "We want to make this a celebration because he left his fingerprints on so many hearts and so we're very happy that people are here to join us."

Many of the people who attended the ceremony have previously worked in the fields or do so now. Most, if not all, have been impacted by the sacrifices Richard made in helping his brother Cesar Chavez create the United Farm Workers Union (UFW).

During the 1960's Richard was a carpenter. He spent his off time helping Cesar develop the plans for what would become the UFW -- a union with 27,000 members national wide.

"He treated the union much like he treated his work as a carpenter, knowing that it needed a solid foundation. That's what Richard lived his life doing, knowing that we needed a solid foundation," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.

Chavez supporters came from as far away as Washington, D.C. to pay their respects.

"Many of the laws that came out of California that he and his brother worked on had tremendous impact not just regionally or here locally, but had reverberations around the country and the world," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis.

Actor Ed Begley worked with Chavez since the 1980's on issues like pesticide control."The struggle continues. There are still people dying out in the fields in conditions that are unfair. They fought to get drinking water and latrines in the field, but there's still more work to be done," said Begley.

Richard also designed the UFW logo which is still the symbol for the migrant workers movement.

Richard's son said judging by the outpouring of support from the public, his father's legacy will live on. "I think that my dad would like to send a message to the next generation about how important it is to stay focused on do positive things and to work," said Ricardo Chavez.

The vigil will concluded early Monday morning and was followed by a mass and reception at Forty Acres.

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united farm workers union, state, rick montanez
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