This past week I attended the MAFO national Farmworkers Conference in San Antonio where Arturo Rodríguez, the second president of the United Farm Workers, was in attendance.
The first president was Cézar Chávez, the great organizer of farm workers in the fields and an American hero. Rodríguez continues the noble work of securing economic and social justice for those that put food on our table.
The struggle for land and the people that work it had its counterpart in the cities and urban streets of the country. The Chicano Movement had its warriors in every sector of society that required a reminder that Latinos were determined to achieve equality in America.
Cinco de Mayo is a special time and space dedicated to the victory of those that overcome the difficulties created by history. The Mexican victory on the Puebla plain on May 5, 1862 is but an echo of the promise of a longer lasting reality for a community in renaissance.
Paul Sandoval was a great part of that community as he led the will of a people on the move. As a political and educational leader, Sandoval sought to help the young and those new to public service to find their place as successful actors in the arena.
Sandoval passed away on April 24 and was eulogized at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on the 28th. It is fitting that we dedicate this Cinco de Mayo to his memory as a warrior in the best tradition of those that fought on this day and won a place in the history of a people.
My memory of Sandoval forms an image of a humble and unassuming man talking about educational policy in Denver Public Schools at Cheltenham Elementary. His words initially resonated with me because I had a child attending that school.
I thought about his words and how they affected me as a parent and the level and kind of involvement we should have with our children’s schooling. His words confirmed the fact that the formal education of our kids were in our hands as much or more than in the hands of the institution.
There was a time in the beginning of Ken Salazar’s first campaign for Colorado attorney general that a group of his supporters came over for a fundraiser. Sandoval arrived with his signature tamales to the affair.
His presence there meant a lot more than that as it signaled to all of us that we had his stamp of approval. Candidates and potential candidates stopped by to get his advice on the best way to run and serve.
The contemporary Cinco de Mayo festivities are a creature of the Chicano Movement because they celebrate successful warriors fighting an enemy overland as well as an enemy within that threatens wholeness in the human condition. The leadership promoted by Cinco de Mayo has brought out the best in the Latino community that needs its heroes to go forward and push for the necessary change to place the community in the mainstream of the twenty first century national reality.
He is one of those warriors that sought to change the landscape and bring his community into the center of life in the United States. As a true leader, he was not always at the front but had some of his best days leading from behind where his very presence made the difference.
We celebrate Sandoval this Cinco de Mayo and wish the best for his family. He will be missed.