Cesar Saludo

Latino lawmakers' persistence pays dividends with designation of Chávez Day

"I think once we started raising the money, they saw the money was coming in and the support that was out there. It was no longer a labor issue, it was a community issue," Mendoza says.

Once the Legislature had the chance to hear the bill, it passed 28-2 in the Senate and 46-11 in the House.

The difficult part was getting legislative leadership to bring it to a vote. Mendoza, who has been a lobbyist for nearly a decade, says Chávez Day was a long time coming because Latino issues in general are not a priority. He says that despite a strong Hispanic caucus, including four senators and seven representatives, it is difficult to organize the Legislature around issues important to Hispanics.

"It seems you have to just go up there and take it from them," Mendoza says. "They're not going to give you anything.

"They wanted to create a state dinosaur. They were debating and passing this issue and those types of things got attention. But when you have an issue that is important to the Hispanic community like Cesar Chávez Day, they don't even give it a hearing. . . . Maybe I shouldn't, but I take it personally. I think [Latino issues] should rate a little bit higher on their priorities. We have to continually educate our elected officials."

Nearly 150 people gathered on the Capitol mall on Friday for the bill signing. People of all ages and ethnicities carried Si Se Puedesigns and wore Cesar Chávez buttons. Many donned union shirts. A group of children displayed a banner reading "We did it for Martin, let's do it for Cesar."

Governor Hull used the opportunity to plug her proposal to add 0.6 percent to the state sales tax to fund education. She wants to put the measure on the November ballot.

"There is no reason for any child not to succeed," Hull says.

Senator Lopez agrees, though he says it will take more than a tax hike to improve education for Latino children. He says the hesitancy to consider the Chávez Day bill extends to other issues of concern for the Latino community.

"The real failure of our public school system has been a failure to educate people of color," he says. "This Legislature has failed to act on programs that we know work -- for instance, bilingual education."

At the bill-signing ceremony, Lopez thanked the Senate and House leadership, and Senate President Brenda Burns for allowing Chávez Day to pass.

"Nothing ever gets done -- particularly for Democrats -- without support of the leadership," Lopez says.

Lopez was quick to tell the crowd that these are the kindest words he has to say about the majority leaders.

"There are many areas where they have not been as supportive as they should," he says.

Contact Amanda Scioscia at her online address: amanda.scioscia@newtimes.com

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