Cesar Chavez National Monument: History or politics?

The home of Cesar Chavez, which will become a national monument.
The home of Cesar Chavez, which will become a national monument.
Courtesy UFW

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President Obama was in L.A. Sunday night for a fundraising concert. On Monday morning, he’ll head for the Central Valley to dedicate a new monument to the late farm labor leader Cesar Chavez.

The designation has as much political symbolism as historic significance. Some see the designation of the Chavez monument and the President’s recent decision to defer deportations of DREAM students as a political ploy for the Latino vote.

Arnulfo De La Cruz says it’s the other way around. De La Cruz is state director for Mi Familia Vota, which works to register and get Latinos to the polls. He says the President’s action actually has a different intent: showing Latinos that if they vote, their growing political power can have consequences.

"I think that as participation grows, people start to listen to more to issues that we’re bringing forth," he said. "Like education, jobs and the economy, healthy environments, safe neighborhoods and health care."

For De La Cruz, the Cesar Chavez monument resonates personally. His father was a farmworker; his mother an organizer for the United Farm Workers
union; his grandmother one of the first UFW members.

The site is in the Tehachapi town of Keene, California. The site known as "La Paz" - shorthand for Our Lady Queen of Peace, or Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz. It's been the headquarters of the United Farmworkers Union since 1971, but also the home and office of its founder, Cesar Chavez.

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Location of the Cesar Chavez National Monument.

Martha Crusius, with the National Park Service, says La Paz sits on more than 100-acres of peaceful, rolling hills. The public will be able to visit the office of the labor leader, which is filled with his books and religious icons. She says his desk chair looks like an old lawn chair.

"It was painful for him to sit for long periods of time," she said because of a series of fasts that he undertook for weeks on end. It "really took a toll on his physical body."

Crusius says the designation of La Paz as a national monument didn't happen overnight. She says the National Park Service has been exploring how to tell the story of Cesar Chavez for more than a decade. Another 40-acres near the farm community of Delano, California was designated as a national historic landmark in 2008.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Chavez's co-founding of the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the UFW.