By Gladys B. Vargas

Dolores Huerta joined state, county and municipal leaders Wednesday morning for the groundbreaking ceremony of a new affordable housing development named after the famous labor leader and civil rights activist. The event was emcee by renown journalist David Cruz.

The Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation held the ceremony Oct. 4th to recognize not only the beginning of the construction, but also the work of leaders at every government level to provide more affordable housing in Oxnard.

The Dolores Huerta Gardens Apartments will be a 58-unit affordable housing development, according to the Cabrillo EDC, and will act as part of their mission of helping agricultural workers with affordable housing, as they have for over 40 years, the CEDC said in a release. The housing complex will be located at 2161 E. Etting Rd. and Pleasant Valley Rd. near Oxnard College.

Speakers at the ceremony included Secretary of the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Lourdes Castro Ramírez; Ventura County Supervisor Vianey Lopez; and Oxnard city council member Gabriela Basua.

“We know that housing provides stability, safety, and a sense of community. It also affects our health outcomes and the quality of life, and the ability to reach for our potential and for our dreams,” Ramirez said in her remarks. “Communities like Oxnard…are rising to the occasion, building capacity, creating homes. And really creating more than the bricks and mortar, the unit, creating a community”

The building will provide 58 housing units directly for low-income farmworkers and veterans, according to Jennifer Seeger, Deputy Director of the Financial Assistance at California’s Department of Housing. Additionally, Seeger said Wednesday, “farmworker families will have access to critical services, including ESL tutoring, childhood literacy, as well as health and nutrition classes.”

Seeger also said 15 of the 58 units will be dedicated to permanent supportive housing for veteran residents in the county, with access to veteran-specific supportive services.

Huerta herself spoke about her organizing around Oxnard and unionizing farmworkers alongside Cesar Chavez, who had briefly lived in La Colonia in Oxnard with his family and started his activist work in the city. After both Huerta and Chavez had helped farmworkers in Stockton and Oxnard respectively to unionize passed those workers to other unions, each one of those unions fell apart once left to stand without the two activists, Huerta said.

According to her, Chavez told her that they had “to start our own union, or the farmworkers will never have a union, and that was the beginning of the UFW,” said Dolores Huerta to VIDA Newspaper.

Huerta also said developers had planned to level La Colonia in Oxnard, similar to a proposal in her hometown of Stockton, California that by the end had resulted not only in a huge swath of displacement for the local farmworkers, but even death for those who had been left with debt on their homes from the local hospital.

“Because of what happened in Stockton, we knew what the consequences were because they lied to people. They told us, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to build you new homes. You don’t have to worry about anything.’ But it was a big lie,” Huerta said. “People were left literally homeless…it was terrible and devastating. So, we organized to make sure that that did not happen here in Oxnard.”

Oxnard Mayor John Zaragoza, Oxnard city council member Bert Perello, and Oxnard city manager Alexander Nguyen were in attendance, as well as representatives from the offices of congressman Salud Carvajal, congresswoman Julia Brownley, and state senator Monique Limón. Also present were assembly member Steve Bennett, Camarillo council member Martita Martinez-Bravo and Santa Paula Latino Town Hall President Laura Espinosa among many others.

“And I’m going to invite all of you to think about something sacred, of this land, to many. It’s scarce to some, unattainable for far too many of us. And that is affordable housing for farm workers and veteranos, CEDC Chief Executive Officer Margarita H. de Escontrias said in her remarks. “When we were struggling for many years…we kept going because we remembered Dolores’ slogan: Sí, se puede. Sí, se puede.”