Obama dedicates new Chávez National Monument
October 09, 2012 | 11:48 AM
In a speech on the grounds of Chávez’s headquarters, which is known as La Paz, Obama noted that the son of farm workers had attended 65 elementary schools and sometimes lived in roadside tents without electricity or plumbing.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Chávez returned to the fields, and started the UFW.
At the time, Obama said, “No one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked the nation’s food — bent down in the beating sun, living in poverty, cheated by growers, abandoned in old age, unable to demand even the most basic rights. But César cared. And in his own peaceful, eloquent way, he made other people care, too.”
The farm worker movement took years to develop, but Obama said, “A march that started in Delano with a handful of activists — that march ended 300 miles away in Sacramento with a crowd 10,000 strong. A boycott of table grapes that began in California eventually drew 17 million supporters across the country, forcing growers to agree to some of the first farm worker contracts in history. Where there had once been despair, César gave workers a reason to hope.”
“What [the growers] don’t know,” he said, “is that it’s not bananas or grapes or lettuce. It’s people.”
“From La Paz, Chávez and other leaders of the UFW orchestrated unprecedented successes for hundreds of thousands of farm workers, including passage of the first U.S. law that recognized farm workers’ collective bargaining rights,” the Interior Department noted in a press release.
La Paz became headquarters to the United Farm Workers of America in the early 1970s when the organization, under the leadership of Chávez, bought the former rock quarry and tuberculosis sanatorium.
“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,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who was present at the dedication.
“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 National Park Service will manage the new national monument in cooperation with the National Chávez Center, which donated properties at La Paz, including the home where Chávez’s widow, Helen, will continue to reside, the memorial garden where Chávez is buried, and visitor center, to the federal government. Obama used the Antiquities Act to create Chávez national monument.
Ruben Andrade, a native of California, has been named acting superintendent. Andrade, who has been superintendent of Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in South Dakota, is the son of farm laborers and worked in the fields himself during school breaks.
President Barack Obama views the office of César Chávez before the dedication ceremony for the César E. Chávez National Monument in Keene, Calif., on Monday. From left, Arturo S. Rodriguez, president, United Farm Workers; widow Helen Chávez; Obama; Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers co-founder; and son Paul F. Chávez, president of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation. (White House/Pete Souza)