President Barack Obama on Monday dedicated the César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, California. The 120-acre monument site in the Tehachapi Mountains in the San Joaquin Valley, served as home, headquarters and now final resting place for the labor leader and civil rights activist who Obama said “gave a voice to poor and disenfranchised workers everywhere.”
The president, evoking the Antiquities Act for the fourth time since becoming president, made the site known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz or just La Paz, the 398th location in the National Park Service system, and the first to be named for a Latino.
Until his death in 1993, La Paz was Chávez’ home and the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) since the early 1970s when Chávez was its president.
Before being purchased by the UFW, the site was home to a rock quarry and tuberculosis sanatorium. From La Paz, Chávez and other leaders of the UFW directed efforts to win right for agricultural workers, and brought about the passage of the first U.S. law that recognized farmworkers’ collective bargaining rights.
“The site soon became a tangible symbol of the union’s growth and the crossroads of the farm worker movement, a place where thousands of workers came to learn how to operate their union, affect social change, and plan their strategies,” according to a statement from the Department of the Interior.
Speaking at the dedication ceremony, the president said Chavez cared about farm workers and “In his own peaceful and eloquent way he made other people care too.”
Obama said Chavez believed that “when someone who works 12 hours a day in the fields can earn enough to put food on the table — maybe save up enough to buy a home — that lifts up our entire economy.”
The president, who fashioned is 2008 “Yes we can” campaign slogan after the UFW’s “Si se puede” mantra, said even though Chavez worked for 20 years without a single victory, “he refused to give up. He refused to scale back his dreams. He just kept fasting and marching and speaking out, confident that his day would come.”
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Monday hailed the president’s decision to create the national monument in honor of Chavez. “César Chávez was one of the giants of the Civil Rights movement, leading a life rich with purpose and providing a voice for the powerless and oppressed,” Salazar said. “By designating La Paz as a national monument, President Obama is ensuring that future generations will have a place to learn about this extraordinary man and the farm labor movement that improved the lives of millions of workers.”
The monument will be managed by the National Park Service in cooperation with the National Chávez Center. The UFW, the César Chávez Foundation and members of César Chávez’ family donated properties at La Paz, including the Chávez home where the labor leader’s widow, Helen Chávez, will continue to reside, the Memorial Garden where César Chávez is buried, and Visitor Center, to the federal government.
National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, who joined the President and Salazar at La Paz for the ceremony, said César Chávez’ contributions “are an important part of the American story…”
The American Latino Heritage Fund (ALHF) of the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, has donated $150,000 to support the initial operations of the Chávez monument. The ALHF supports the work of the National Park Service in preserving historic places that tell a more inclusive story of American Latinos’ economic, civic and cultural contributions to the American experience.
Ruben Andrade, a native of California, and the son of farm workers, has been named acting superintendent of the new monument. “My family and I know firsthand the hard-fought accomplishments that are the legacy of César Chávez,” said Andrade. “To now have the opportunity to lead this new national park established in his honor and to work with the National Chávez Center to tell the story of Chávez and the farmworker movement, is both humbling and exhilarating.”
César E. Chávez National Monument is located at 29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road in Keene, California, approximately 30 miles southeast of Bakersfield. The site is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit the César E. Chávez National Monument website at www.nps.gov/cech.