Monday, May 7, 2012
The Navy's newest ship was christened Saturday evening on Cinco de Mayo in honor of the late Mexican-American labor leader Cesar Chavez.
With the crack of a champagne bottle, Chavez's widow christened the USNS Cesar Chavez.
Those assembled in the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard near Barrio Logan on Saturday cheered as the cargo ship slipped into the harbor, but the naming almost did not happen.
Initially, the Chavez family did not want the ship named after the migrant worker advocate since he believed in non-violence. They agreed after learning the ship will be used to take carry supplies like food to other ships.
Now, the ship name is being criticized by members of the Senate. Republicans have asked the Navy to explain its choice, calling the naming a political statement that does not follow Navy protocol.
The assistant secretary of the Navy did not wait for the Senate hearing to address the controversy.
"This the perfect name of an American hero who embodied American values that will inspire a generation of sailors," said Juan Garcia, the assistant secretary of the Navy.
Chavez himself served two years in the Navy from 1946 to 1948.
The USNS Cesar Chavez is the 14th and final in the series of ships which were built in San Diego and named after pioneers.
"Like Dr. Charles Drew who pioneered... transfusions and now, to a pioneer in civil rights," said Garcia.
For the majority of the night, the controversy was out of mind as some proud San Diegans said the naming was a step in the right direction.
"This hasn't happened for us," said Jorge Aguilar, who works as a supervisor at NASSCO.
In the 1970s, Aguilar knew the poor working conditions of migrant workers firsthand.
"I was a farm worker before and he came to organize us up in the Salinas area and I was a part of that movement," he said.
About 60 percent of NASSCO's workforce is Hispanic. At Saturday's christening and launch, many who helped build the ship were in attendance as well as about 7,000 others.
Video shot on iPad by Katie Euphrat