faris sabbah peace and unity march
Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools Faris Sabbah speaks Sunday at the 30th annual Peace and Unity gathering in downtown Watsonville. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Close to 70 people gathered Sunday at Romo Park in Watsonville for the 30th annual Peace and Unity March and Rally to remember friends and family who died from street violence. 

It stands as the oldest yearly peace march and rally in the state. It was formed when two local children were shot in nearby Pajaro in 1994. Jorge Cortez, 16, and his sister Jessica, 9, were killed by gang members as they fled from the attackers into a popular bakery.

As the shock rippled through the community and media, organizers saw it as a prime moment to take action and stand up against such violence. 

Headed up by Fabian Leonor, the event centered around numerous homemade altars for those that have died, which included photos, flowers, candles and memorabilia.

Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo said the event “is a way to bring families together that have lost loved ones. Today Jessica would have been 39 years old and Jorge would have been 46 years old. Their lives were cut so short. Today this event continues, no matter how large it is. For me, this is an example of my hometown of Watsonville to be determined to address violence and provide a better future for our families and ask our local leaders to provide resources to help our families when they are struggling.”

Before taking their march to the town of Pajaro, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Felipe Hernandez said the event calls for more than unity, but also healing and remembrance. He reminded the crowd that he joined forces with Alejo and others in 1994 to create the Peace and Unity March and he stressed that it serves as an antidote to violence among gang members.

“This march serves as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for positive change,” he said.

peace and unity march
Several altars were set up Saturday in Romo Park Sunday for those that have died in violent crimes. Photo: Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian
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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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