This week’s column is about my long-time friend and union activist, Jaime Martinez. I have marched with him on many occasions, including picket lines on SW Military Drive in the nineties. I have also participated in other protests with him, and the annual Cesar Chavez March for well over 16 years.
Currently he is in St. Luke’s Hospital rehab unit recovering from his two and a half year bout with cancer. He was re-diagnosed with cancer having beat it once before and given only six months to live. With constant chemo, he is still gallantly fighting, and is classified by his doctors as a one percent survivor.
Many people will recall Jaime as the one who spear-headed the push to get City Council to rename a local street in Cesar Chavez’s memory. After a long uphill battle, the Council voted to rename Durango Boulevard, Cesar Chavez Boulevard. (Si Se Puede!)
On Friday, March 20th there will be a press conference to name a street after Jaime as well. I recently visited him in the hospital, where he confirmed he will be at that press conference for the renaming.
He also pointed out that he will be ready for the annual Cesar E. Chavez March on the 28th. That means I will also be there taking his photo and all the marchers who participate.
I met Jaime through my friend Pete Munoz, who worked with me at McCollum High school. My buddy Pete Munoz grew up with Jaime and even played in a band with him back when they were younger. While Pete was working as a hall monitor, he would share stories about Jaime all the time. Eventually we met and became friends as well.
Jaime, a man of the people, concerned with civil rights, was obviously a very close friend of Cesar Chavez whom I have also written about in two past columns.
They worked together in the movement for many years. In 1982 I interviewed Jaime’s friend Cesar (before I knew Jaime) for KENS 5 when he was here for a protest. I can see why Jaime and Cesar were friends, sharing the same purpose and mission in life, to speak for those who were unable to speak for themselves. Jaime continues to speak out when others don’t always step up to the plate.
I can see first-hand how these two icons impacted the community, having taught for a number of years in the Harlandale community, made up predominately of Hispanics.
One time I recall walking a protest line with Jaime in a boycott of local grocery stores, selling produce that was picked by low paid migrants in California that were forced to live in substandard conditions as well.
I nervously held up my sign in front of me, a little fearful, since the grocery was literally down the block from the school. I was worried some of my students would see me and talk about it at school.
Jaime told me, “Lower your sign so people can see who you are.” Timidly, I lowered my sign and within 5 seconds I heard a voice from a passing car yell, “Mr. Walker, what are you doing?” I felt embarrassed for the moment, as I told her what I was up to. She yelled back, “Si Se Puede!” Relieved, I continued to picket. Sure enough Monday morning everyone in the school heard that I had walked the picket line! I look back now and chuckle.
Although Jaime is battling health issues, he keeps his head up and his spirits high. I look forward to our continued friendship as he has made a huge difference in my life. Si Se Puede!
Anyway, as always, what I write is “Just a Thought.”
Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and former Justice of the Peace and Journalist.