On Saturday morning at the corner of 19th and Linda Streets, two Mission worlds went about their mornings and for a brief moment collided – happily.
Outside the Mission Pool and Playground Park, a handful of young women in stylish spandex and bright sneakers struggled over sit-ups and complicated Pilate poses in an outdoor fitness class. And directly in front of them, a stream of low-riders drove slowly down 19th street, bobbing up and down while blasting songs from Bay Area rap legends Too Short and Mac Dre. As the low-riders continued down 19th to Lexington, onlookers brunching at Radish exchanged bewildered glances and then applauded the Impalas as they sprang towards the sky.
The procession of cars was part of San Francisco’s annual Cesar Chavez Parade and Festival, which was coordinated by the Cesar Chavez Holiday Committee. The event was organized to celebrate the life and activism of Chavez, the labor and civil rights leader who, alongside Dolores Huerta, co-founded the United Farm Workers Union and famously boycotted the grape industry, leading a 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, California.
The parade assembled at 19th and Guerrero, continued down Mission Street towards 24th and ended with a street fair between Bryant Street and Treat Avenue. There, it was greeted with a large crowd, many wearing black tee shirts inscribed with the slogan “Viva Cesar Chavez!” in bold white print.
“One of my dad’s heroes is Cesar Chavez, so I always grew up learning about social movements and how it’s important to represent where you come from and represent your people,” said Flor Khan, a graduate student studying at Equity and Social Justice at SF State. “I’m really involved in the community so I’m here representing my people, my culture, my heritage.”
As the festivities kicked off, parade-goers gathered around the low-riders, snapped photos on their phones, and chanted “si se puede!” as the cars deafeningly revved their engines. A man in a red impala with gold-painted rims turned up the bass, bumping Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre. He opened the door for an older man in a black fedora, mustache, and black sunglasses, his right hand studded with gold rings. A Chihuahua in a pink sweater quietly rested in his arms. He revved the engine one more time, and then took off. Behind him, two women riding in a blue convertible Chevrolet gleefully took selfies as the car rolled down the street. The parade had officially begun.
But aside from festivities, the event was also a time for participants to reflect on the changes that have taken place in the neighborhood.
“I want to talk about something that’s happening that goes beyond this celebration,” said District 9 Supervisor David Campos in a speech to the crowd, looking casual in a white button-down and khakis. “There is a crisis in our neighborhood. There is a housing crisis. People are being evicted out of the Mission, we have an increase of almost 300 percent of Ellis Act evictions and what we’re fighting for is the soul of the city.”
Carlos Gonzalez, a Mission born-and-bred muralist, said he attended the event to honor the legacy of Cesar Chavez and to “keep the struggle alive. There’s a big culture clash here,” he said. “It’s about race, class and it’s about dignity. Are we going to survive? That’s why we’re here today. To make a stand. 24th Street is the last stand. We’re here to save it. We’re not going to sell out.”
Outside of the Mission, too, the activism of Chavez and the United Farmworkers Union is being honored. Recently, the well-known Mexican director and actor Diego Luna released the film “Cesar Chavez,” which is about the life of the American labor leader and his efforts to unionize thousands of farm workers in California. The film, which has been widely praised, recalls a moment in history that many parade-goers said is critical to recall.
“My husband was a farmworker, and his father was a farmworker,” said Holiday Committee volunteer Cindy Arreguin. “My son once said, ‘it’s very important for Chavez’s legacy to live on in San Francisco. It’s important for brown kids to have a hero. It’s as important as breathing.’”