California commemorates Cesar Chavez Day on Monday, April 1. The state holiday marks the March 31 birthday of the iconic labor leader who co-founded the United Farm Workers union in 1962 with Dolores Huerta. Over the years, Chavez’s image has been used extensively in political rallies, labor union literature and most recently, in L.A.’s mayoral campaign.
One flier from L.A. Mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel’s campaign — sent during the primary — has a large picture of Chavez on the front, along with an inspirational quote of his. On the back, there’s an endorsement from UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta.
Greuel's mailer did not indicate any endorsement by the UFW or any member of the Chavez family. According to Huerta, as long as Chavez’s images aren’t used for commercial ends, the law “says that anyone running for office can use any photo of any public person that they want. If you’re considered to be what they call a person of public life, then they can use your photo.”
RELATED: KPCC's L.A. mayoral race endorsement tracker
Huerta says she’s seen cases where a candidate she didn’t support used her image, or that of Chavez. That was the case with Jan Perry, who finished fourth in the mayoral primary. Her campaign mailed a flier with a picture of Chavez and Bobby Kennedy, taken when Chavez ended his historic hunger strike in 1968. In Perry’s case, there was no endorsement from anyone associated with Chavez.
“I think they want to associate themselves with such an image in hopes that that will get them votes,” Huerta says. “You know to try to say, 'I’m a good guy ... or I’m a good lady.'”
Fernando Guerra, who teaches Chicano Studies at Loyola Marymount University, says Chavez’s historical importance transcends political boundaries.
“Cesar Chavez belongs to all of us,” he says. “He belongs to all Latinos, but he also belongs to all Americans, to all candidates. Cesar Chavez does not belong to one campaign.”
Guerra adds that the use of these images by Greuel, Perry and other candidates has an aspirational element.
“When you use Cesar Chavez , you’re not necessarily saying that he supported you, you’re not necessarily saying that United Farm Workers supported you, you aren’t necessarily saying that Latinos supported you,” Guerra says. “You are saying that I, as a candidate, believe in his ideals and will govern in that way and that’s why you should support me.”
While the symbol of the United Farm Workers — a black eagle — and its motto, “Sí se puede (Yes, it can be done),” are copyrighted, Chavez’s image is not.
Marc Grosssman, communications director for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, which holds those copyrights, says it’s hard to keep track of how often his image is used. Only in extreme cases, if the foundation “strongly disagrees” with the politics of the organization using it, will it try to have the image removed.
As the May 21 runoff between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti approaches, Huerta says she’s quite sure Chavez’s image and hers will reappear. And given how crucial the Latino vote is here in L.A., it wouldn’t be surprising to see them both on the fliers of candidates.