|The Azteca Theater in 1965 as Cesar Chavez and the Delano marchers reach Fresno enroute to Sacramento. Photo by Gerhard Gscheidle, for The Movement, April, 1966.|
By David Owens
The story of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW) is well known, especially in California. What is less known is the role of the Azteca Theater in that famous march to Sacramento.
It started in 1962, when Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with Dolores Huerta. It was later called the United Farm Workers (UFW).
In 1965, Chavez led a strike of California grape pickers on the historic farm workers march from Delano to the California state capitol in Sacramento. Fresno was the largest city on the route as well as the agricultural center of the San Joaquin Valley and proved pivotal to the momentum of the march.
The UFW asked all Americans to boycott table grapes to show support for farm workers. The strike lasted for five years and encouraged many improvements for farm workers.
When the Mayor of Fresno learned of the march heading to Sacramento through Fresno he was concerned on how to avoid a potentially volatile situation. He contacted Police Chief Hank Morton who in turn called upon Arturo Tirado, of the Azteca Theater, to help make sure there were no problems for the marchers or local residents.
Tirado was well-known in the state and his theater had become the center of Hispanic culture in the San Joaquin Valley. With his help, the route through Fresno was arranged and his guidance helped keep the peace. The Azteca Theater on F Street -- with it's 760 seats and location just off the main highway -- made it a good gathering point.
Fresno was the largest city on the route to Sacramento. When the march reached the Azteca Theater it gained critical mass. Over 1,000 people gathered at the theater in support of the farm workers. Politicians, middle-class Mexican-Americans and enlightened general population were joining the line.
Over the ensuing years Cesar Chavez stopped at the theater several times, including a visit with presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy.
In addition to running the Azteca Theater, Arturo Tirado was well-known for bringing the most famous stars and musicians from Mexico to California, often hosting them for their tours. And on occasion, served as a liaison between the Mexican-American population and local government.
Oral history from Dick Avakian, 1915-2009, known as the unofficial mayor of Fresno's Chinatown, holding court at Dick's Menswear for over 60 years. http://aztecatheater.blogspot.com/2010/06/remembering-chinatown-treasure.html
The Movement, April, 1966. Published in San Francisco.
California History Magazine Volume 83, No. 4
Arturo R. Tirado and the Teatro Azteca: Mexican Popular Culture in the Central San Joaquin Valley, by Manuel G. Gonzales 83-46
L.A. Times, Mark Arax, Standing Tall in Fresno, a short background in Fresno's wild and wooly days. A colorful synopsis of the Fresno Police and the events that lead to California's Three Strikes law. http://articles.latimes.com/1992-12-06/news/mn-3568_1_fresno-police-chiefs
Photographer Gerhard Gscheidle came to San Francisco in 1964 and became a photographer there and in NYC before returning to Germany.
For events and activities at the Azteca Theater
For Spanish language centered events and activities at Teatro Azteca: