PORTLAND – Gov. Paul LePage didn’t attend Thursday’s annual observance of Cesar Chavez’s birthday, but he definitely was on the minds of its organizers.

LePage, who turned down an invitation to the event, recently ordered a mural of scenes from Maine’s labor history removed from the Department of Labor’s headquarters and ordered new names for conference rooms in the building, including one that was named for Chavez.

“They can take a painting down, they can take the names of history down from the conference rooms, but they cannot take our voices, and that’s why we’re here today,” Jose “Joey” Lopez, Maine director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, told about 100 people at the First Parish Church.

Chavez, who died in 1993, created the United Farm Workers, a union representing mostly migrant farm workers, particularly in California. The union fought for decades before being recognized by California’s growers, especially those who owned vineyards and farms where lettuce and other vegetables were harvested mostly by migrant workers.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Chavez and the UFW organized walkouts of tens of thousands of farm workers and nationwide boycotts against California table grapes and lettuce.

Chavez came to Portland during the boycott, speaking to about 500 people in Lincoln Park on Aug. 6, 1974, and calling for a boycott of lettuce, grapes and wine sold in local supermarkets.

The observance of Chavez’s birthday is in its seventh year. On Thursday, speakers referred to the controversy over the mural and the conference rooms, even singing a slightly altered stanza of Woody Guthrie’s farm workers anthem, “Deportees”:

“They took your name off of a room in the statehouse

“Replaced by a mountain that nobody knows

“But your work, it lives on in the hearts of la gente (the people)

“That are no longer known by the name Deportee.”

The crowd sang the song, along with “We Shall Overcome” and “De Colores,” the UFW anthem.

Lopez said LePage has tentatively agreed to meet with representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens on April 12.

He said the governor’s actions are taking the state backward and hurting its ability to attract new businesses.

He also said the governor’s proposal to delay benefits to legal immigrants who move to Maine would discourage the creation of businesses, particularly those that serve minority communities.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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