Monterey County Supervisors Luis Alejo and John Phillips have teamed up with the Watsonville Peace and Unity Coalition and the City of Watsonville to organize the 25th Annual Watsonville Peace and Unity March on February 10th starting at 11am at the Watsonville City Plaza. The event falls on the exact day when 25 years earlier on February 10, 1994, Jessica Cortez (age 9) and her brother Jorge Cortez (age 16) were tragically gunned down as they walked to El Nopal Bakery in Pajaro.
The incident drew so much statewide and local publicity that a group of Watsonville youth began organizing the event in their honor and in memoriam for all other victims of gang and domestic violence. The event has continued each year since then. Despite major challenges with crime at the time, the City of Watsonville has now seen significant drops in crime over the last 3 years and 19 percent overall. Watsonville Police Chief David Honda recently noted that Watsonville now has the lowest per capita crime rate in Santa Cruz County.
This year’s march will begin at the City Plaza and will proceed into Pajaro in Monterey County and back. The small park on the corner of Salinas Road and Stender Avenue in Pajaro will be renamed “Cortez Park,” and organizers will unveil a memorial bench in honor of the fallen children. There will also be a ceremonial planting of a Japanese cherry blossom tree in their memory at the park. The march will be led by the Cortez children’s mother, Maria Salazar Cortez, and Rosa De Ramirez, whose 19-year old son, Tony Valdivia, was also tragically killed four months after the Cortez children. De Ramirez has led every march for the last 25 years. Dozens of other families of crime victims’ families and friends will also be participating from Watsonville and Salinas.
The list of elected and community officials who will be joining this year’s march include Congressman Jimmy Panetta, State Senator Bill Monning, Monterey County Supervisors Luis Alejo, John Phillips, Chris Lopez & Simon Salinas (Ret.), Santa Cruz County Supervisor Greg Caput, Watsonville Councilmembers Lowell Hurst and Felipe Hernandez, Watsonville Police Chief David Honda, and Pajaro Valley School Board Members Maria Orozco and Karen Osmundson.
All crime victims’ families are encouraged to set up altars in memory of their loved ones starting at 10am around the Gazebo at the City Plaza and need to bring their own tables, flowers and decorations. The program begins at 11am and the march will start at 12pm. All local residents are invited to participate with signs, banners and photos of their loved ones being remembered.
For any questions, residents can contact Supervisor Alejo at his office at (831) 755-5011 or email at District1@co.monterey.ca.us.