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Chavez Home In Oxnard Was Razed Years Ago : La Colonia: Mourners mistakenly visited a dwelling next to the site where the late labor leader lived as a boy.

May 28, 1993|FRED ALVAREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hundreds of mourners who flocked to Oxnard last month to support efforts to turn Cesar Chavez's boyhood home into a historical site missed the mark by a few dozen feet and a whole lot of years.

An investigation by the Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board has revealed that the labor leader's humble barrio dwelling actually was torn down years ago.

"It wasn't a house. He and his family lived in an old shed," said board member Dorothy Ramirez, who conducted interviews and researched school records to determine the real boyhood address of the United Farm Workers Union chief.

With no structure to declare a landmark, board members this week decided instead to pursue the creation of a stone or brick monument on the property where Chavez once lived.

"They made a mistake," Ramirez said of the marchers who descended on a La Colonia home last month to honor Chavez. "But the thought was good. It doesn't matter where they laid the flowers, they had good intentions."

Days after Chavez's death, hundreds of farm workers and labor activists bearing flowers and red-and-black union flags flocked to a Garfield Avenue home where they believed the labor leader lived as a boy.

The march served as a memorial service and as a call to establish Chavez's boyhood home as a historical landmark.

But Chavez, at age 11, actually lived with his family in an old shed next door to the home where marchers gathered to pay their final respects, Ramirez said. The wood hovel, wiped out an undetermined number of years ago, served to shelter the Chavez family during the local walnut harvest in 1938.

Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez, who participated in last month's march and who has spearheaded efforts to memorialize Chavez, said he was told recently about the mix-up.

Lopez believes that perhaps even Chavez himself may have misidentified the site during a visit to La Colonia.

"All of those little houses look the same," Lopez said Thursday. "But I don't think it's negative. Whether you place a landmark at the exact spot or not doesn't really matter. It's the symbolism that's important."

After living in Oxnard's La Colonia district during walnut harvests over a period of years, Chavez returned to the city in the late 1950s to help form a community organization dedicated to registering voters and using the ballot box to improve the sorry conditions of barrio life.

Many say Chavez's now-defunct Community Service Organization laid the foundation for a political evolution in Oxnard, where voters last year elected their first Latino mayor, first black councilman and only the fourth Latino councilman in the city's 90-year history.

Because of his ties to the community, residents and groups have been proposing ideas to memorialize Chavez. Suggestions include naming a school and a street after the labor leader.

Karl Lawson, an Oxnard housing official and former UFW employee, said a meeting is scheduled for next month to coordinate the various proposals.

"Cesar's family has issued a call to anyone considering naming things to please consult with them first," Lawson urged. "The family shouldn't pick up the newspaper one day and find out something has been named after him."

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