Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Santa Rita Hall



Clockwise from top left: altar outside Santa Rita Hall; entrance; door entering the hall; gates. November 2011. Photos by Stefany Sheridan

South 12th Street, Phoenix AZ

Santa Rita Hall was the location of a highly regarded activist event during the 1970’s, the Fast of Love by Cesar Chavez. Cesar Chavez, was a historical and important leader for labor workers in Arizona and the United States, founded the United Farm Workers of America. The UFWA organizes agricultural workers, many of whom are Mexican Americans. Cesar was a native to Arizona, and after a decade after founding the UFWA his native state pushed House Bill 2134, which denied farm workers the right to boycott and strike during harvest seasons. After asking to meet with Republican Governor Jack Williams to help them and appeal to veto the bill, the Governor denied the meeting and immediately signed the bill on the spot. The governor remarked, “as far as I’m concerned, those people don’t exist (Whiting, 2003).”

After the bill was signed, Cesar returned to Arizona and began a 24-day water-only fast in Phoenix, at Santa Rita Hall, which is pictured above. He chose Santa Rita Hall, because it was the site for his “Fast of Love.” Around the area of Santa Rita Hall, many Mexican immigrants located here because of the labor work that has historically happened in the area. The hall is located on South 12th Street, in Phoenix. While located here, the fast immediately took a bad toll on his body, and Cesar was bedridden within a few days. He was visited by a group of Latino and political workers, advocating for what Cesar was doing for the labor workers (Whiting, 2003).

Cesar chanted “Si, si se puede!” (Yes, yes it can be done) while he was getting weaker and weaker from the fast. He spent most of the fast in the tiny room known as Santa Rita Hall that was barely big enough for a single bed, small table and chairs. Outside the room, thousands of people, including the widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, US Senator George McGovern, and Joseph P Kennedy the third, attended masses (Whiting, 2003).

The fast ended on June 4th, 1972 when Cesar was too weak to even speak. Passages were read for his followers and advocates for labor working laws. Still to this day the bill is still in the works, but Cesar’s famous words have been an inspiration to people all over the world. Even President Obama used “Yes we can!” during his 2008 presidential campaign, along with many other Latino labor workers (Whiting, 2003).

The site of Santa Rita Hall connects well with our course material because of the obvious connections with the history of a largely influential Mexican civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez. Juan Alvarez, 58, of Phoenix was quoted saying, “In the 60s, Cesar is my hero. Today, he is my icon.” Still to this day Cesar is seen as a very influential individual towards the rights of labor workers, especially those descending from Mexico. Many Mexican American activists’ are pushing for March 31st as a state holiday, due to the fact that it was Cesar Chavez’s birthday and the influence he made on the Mexican workers here in the United States.

- Reggie Halstrom and Stefany Sheridan


“Chavez Embraces Unity” Whiting, Brent AZ Republic, 22 Mar 2003

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