It has been a whirlwind week for Latino activist Jack Nava, one that will culminate today after a mile-long march in honor of the late labor leader Cesar Chavez.
At a small park in downtown Oxnard, the Ventura resident plans to recount his part in an eight-year campaign to persuade the U.S. Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp featuring the United Farm Workers union co-founder.
He will tell of helping to collect more than 25,000 signatures for the cause, circulating a homemade petition at college campuses, civil rights marches and other community events.
And he will talk about swelling with pride last week at the ceremony he attended in downtown Los Angeles at which the 37-cent stamp was released to the public.
“A lot of hard work went into this,” said the 65-year-old retired barber, who stooped in the fields long before the UFW helped secure such conveniences as toilets and drinking water for farm workers.
“I didn’t read about Cesar Chavez in a book; I lived it and I know what he went through,” Nava said. “I thought he was a great man and I wanted to do something to help everybody remember him.”
Unveiled in September, the stamp depicts a smiling Chavez against a backdrop of vineyards, symbolic of the strikes and boycotts Chavez organized to gain better working conditions for farm workers.
The postal service receives tens of thousands of requests each year for commemorative stamps, but only a fraction make the cut. More than 75 million Chavez stamps were printed following a nationwide campaign spearheaded by the Glendale-based Cesar E. Chavez Foundation.
Foundation spokeswoman Annie Brown said it was supporters such as Nava who made the idea a reality.
“It wasn’t one person in particular responsible for pushing this through, but I think Jack Nava’s efforts are representative of what we’ve seen across the country,” Brown said. “What we find particularly encouraging is that 10 years after Cesar’s passing, people are still moved by his legacy to want to carry on and do these things.”
Nava said he was first moved to do his part at a parade in East Los Angeles shortly after Chavez’s death in 1993. He marched in the parade holding a homemade sign asking whether there was any interest in a Chavez stamp.
The positive reaction spurred his signature-gathering campaign.
“I was one of the first to sign,” said Denis O’Leary, an El Rio schoolteacher and spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Celebration Committee. “It has been his mission to get the stamp. I give Jack all of the credit in the world.”
In albums and portfolios, Nava has documented the drive with letters, photos and resolutions supporting the effort. Among Nava’s most precious documents is a 1995 letter from the postal service — sent in response to a letter of his — informing him that a Chavez stamp was under consideration.
Nava continued gathering signatures and support until word came last year that the postal service would be issuing the stamp.
“Man, I really couldn’t believe it,” said Nava, who spoke Friday about the effort to community leaders in Oxnard.
“After all that work, after all of those times of having doors slammed in my face, it finally paid off.”