Two States Consider Chavez Holiday

As a college student in Boulder, Paula Sandoval picketed liquor stores selling California wine to support Cesar Chavez's national grape boycott.

Three decades later, the state Senate candidate has mixed feelings about creating a paid state holiday to honor the man who championed the cause of farm workers. It comes down to money: Colorado is making budget cuts because of an estimated $608 million shortfall this fiscal year.

"My heart says yes but the pragmatist in me says no, not yet,'' Sandoval said.

Voters in Colorado and New Mexico will be asked to create the holiday when they go to the polls next month, following the lead of California in honoring the founder of the United Farm Workers.

Critics in Colorado, including Gov. Bill Owens, say the holiday would cost an estimated $10.1 million in lost work and an additional $477,000 in pay for state workers who must work on holidays.

The referendum is expected to easily pass in New Mexico, where a bill proposing a Chavez holiday sailed through the Legislature in 2001. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson twice vetoed it because of the cost.

New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragon, a Democrat, said Chavez's life had a significant impact on a large number of New Mexico residents.

"We felt it was a worthy and well-deserved recognition and at least deserved putting it before our citizens,'' Aragon said.

The day is already an optional holiday in Colorado as it is in Texas, meaning workers may take it off if they work another day they would normally have off.

There is no organized support or opposition to the measures, which were referred to voters by state lawmakers. A recent Colorado poll showed 65 percent opposition. No polls have been conducted in New Mexico.

Albuquerque already has a main street named after Chavez. Aragon said Chavez had a significant presence in the state, speaking at universities and supporting worker actions.

Penn Pfiffner, president of the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, said it's unlikely the holiday would be observed by businesses.

"There are many heroic Americans who've contributed great things to this country whom we don't recognize and I've heard no policy from the proponents about when we stop,'' he said.

Ramon Del Castillo, who helped organize Denver's observance of Cesar Chavez Day last year, said money should not be the only issue.

"I hope that when people vote they examine their conscience and that they realize that all the victories of oppressed people have come through activism,'' said Del Castillo, who supported Chavez's boycott against lettuce on college campuses.

Still undecided, Sandoval said she realizes creating a holiday would raise more awareness about Chavez, especially in schools, and give Hispanic children a visible role model.

"He's truly a person that deserves to be honored. He's to me a true American hero,'' she said.