Local News

Obama: ‘Today we celebrate César Chávez’

By From page A3 | October 10, 2012

President Barack Obama, accompanied by César Chávez's widow Helen, places a special César Chávez red rose at the gravesite where the iconic leader of the farmworkers movement was laid to rest in 1993. Obama visited the site Monday to dedicate the César E. Chávez National Monument. AP photo

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Cesar Chavez' widow, Helen F. Chavez, places a special "Cesar Chavez" red rose at the gravesite where Cesar E. Chavez was laid to rest in 1993, as he tours the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument Memorial Garden, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in Keene, Calif. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By Ben Feller

KEENE (AP) — President Barack Obama on Monday designated the home of Latino labor leader César Chávez as a national monument, calling Chávez a hero who brought hope to millions of poor, disenfranchised farm workers who otherwise might have remained “invisible” to much of the nation.

“”Today, we celebrate César Chávez,” Obama said at a ceremony at La Paz, the California farmhouse where Chávez lived and worked for more than two decades. “Our world is a better place because César Chávez decided to change it.”

Chávez, who died in 1993 at age 66, is buried on the site where the monument was dedicated. His widow, Helen, still lives there.

Davis consultant played key role

Joining the President, the Chávez family and thousands of visitors in Keene, was Davis consultant Dennis J. Dahlin, landscape architect for the César Chávez Foundation.

A focal point of the national monument is the César E. Chávez Memorial Garden, the final resting place of the labor leader and humanitarian. Dahlin, president of the Davis design firm Dahlin and Essex, was selected by the Chávez family to design the memorial. The design process included four years of meetings (and some memorable family celebrations) to build trust and understanding of sensitive design issues.

Dahlin worked with César’s widow Helen, his brother Richard, other family members, and Foundation staff to reflect the environmental values and cultural heritage of this important national figure. The landscape architect directed the design team for the Memorial Garden and Visitor Center (also included in the national monument), and collaborated with artists on sculpture and other art in the memorial design.

Cultural sensitivity was a critical part of the project. Garden niches display statuary selected by the Chávez family. The United Farm Workers eagle logo was incorporated into the paving of the garden, and the design is repeated in sculpture, metal railings, and other garden features. Raised beds of the ‘César Chávez’ rose flank the grave site, and grapes are prominently featured because of their key role in the farm worker movement.

The National Park Service will manage the new national monument, which will be open to the public. For more information about the site, see http://chavezfoundation.org/

The 187-acre site, known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or simply La Paz, was the union’s planning and coordination center starting in 1971. Chávez and many organizers lived, trained and strategized there.

Obama’s action designates 105 acres at the site near Bakersfield as a national monument, the fourth monument he has designated under the Antiquities Act.

The action could shore up support from some Hispanic and progressive voters for Obama, whose 2008 “yes we can” slogan borrowed from Chávez’s motto, “Si, se puede.”

When the Arizona-born Chávez began working as an organizer after World War II, “no one seemed to care about the invisible farm workers who picked the nation’s food,” Obama said. “César cared. And in his own peaceful, eloquent way he made other people care, too. Where there had once been despair, César gave workers a reason to hope.”

As head of the United Farm Workers of America, Chávez staged a massive grape boycott and countless field strikes, and forced growers to sign contracts providing better pay and working conditions to the predominantly Latino farmworkers. He was credited with inspiring millions of other Latinos in their fight for more educational opportunities, better housing and more political power.

Obama seemed to tie Chávez to his own re-election campaign, saying: “Even though we have a difficult road ahead, I know we can keep moving forward together. ” Obama’s 2012 campaign motto is “Forward.”

Helen Chávez and son Paul Chávez were among those attending the ceremony. Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Chávez of the UFW, and current union president Arturo S. Rodriguez also were present, as were Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other officials.

— Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.

The Associated Press

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