On November 2, 2013, Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, more than 150 people participated in the annual Peace and Unity March in Watsonville to commemorate the lives of community members who have been killed since 1994. That year, Watsonville youth organized the first Peace and Unity March to address ongoing violence in the community, particularly after the slaying of 9 year-old Jessica Cortez and her 16 year-old brother, Jorge Cortez.
The Peace and Unity Coalition includes local youth, community groups and families who have lost loved ones to violence. The Coalition says the march provides “a safe space for families of victims and our local community to come together to organize an event to speak out against violence in the streets of South Santa Cruz County.”
Since the annual event began in 1994, it was organized primarily by the Watsonville Brown Berets and families in the community. In 2012, the Watsonville Brown Berets created the Peace and Unity Coalition to broaden the participation and organizing of the march, including the City of Watsonville. That year, over 350 people attended the demonstration.
In 2013, the Watsonville Brown Berets are no longer an organization, and the City of Watsonville was not an official sponsor of the event. However the Springfield Community Grange, a newly-vibrant agricultural center near Las Lomas in North Monterey County, which since 2011 includes former Brown Berets, supported this year’s demonstration.
For the first time in many years, demonstrators crossed over the Pajaro River and marched through Pajaro, the small and oft-forgotten community which is part of Monterey County. The march was led by Yaocuauhtli Danza Cultural, Aztec dancers from Salinas, and backed by the Warrior Circle from Santa Cruz Barrios Unidos.
Sep Susunaga, one of the march organizers, states “I think the Peace and Unity March is crucial in ensuring that we remain aware of the violence happening around us … this serves as motivation for community members to come together and help shape a safer environment and come up with ways to prevent violence.”