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Thursday, Oct 24 2013 11:01 AM

Park Service seeking to honor farm worker movement history

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    By CASEY CHRISTIE

    Cesar Chavez meditates behind his home in Keene at La Paz.

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    By AP Photo/Fresno Bee, Richard Darby

    Cesar Chavez, farm labor leader, eats a piece of bread to end his fast at Delano March 11, 1968. About 4,000 farm workers joined him in a symbolic bread-breaking ceremony marking the end of their leader's fasting for the principle of non-violence. With him are Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who came from Washington to take part, and Chavez's wife, left, and mother.

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    By AP Photo/File

    United Farm Workers organizing committee chairman Cesar Chavez, seated left, and grower representative John Guimarra, Jr., seated right, prepare to sign a contract ending the long Delano grape strike. Standing are UFWOC attorney Jerry Cohen, right, and Bishop Joseph F. Donnelly, chairman of the Bishop's Committee on Farm Labor.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    In this file photo, students from Pond School work in the memorial garden where the gravesite of labor leader Cesar Chavez is located at the National Chavez Center in Keene. Students from across California came to the center to celebrate Chavez's birthday by cleaning and fixing up the grounds. Pond School is near Delano.

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BY JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

One of the spots where Roberto Bustos feels most connected to the farm worker labor movement -- and his history -- is at the corner of Albany Street and Garces Highway in Delano.

That's where he stood, in March 1966, as Delano police officers tried to stop farm workers following labor leader Cesar Chavez from beginning their historic march from Delano to Sacramento.

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GET INVOLVED

People interested in learning more about or commenting on the effort to preserve and recognize significant historical sites tied to the farm worker movement and Cesar Chavez can visit the National Park Service special study page at www.nps.gov/pwro/chavez.

HISTORIC SITES

Below are the top, so-called Tier 1, sites the National Park Service is reviewing and a Park Service description of them. A list of all the sites can be found at www.nps.gov/pwro/chavez. Click on "Sites" then "newsletter" then "Newsletter #1."

Forty Acres, Delano

Several structures housed the UFW's headquarters and the first of many service centers to meet farmworkers' needs beyond the fields. It housed a gas station and repair shop, multipurpose hall, health clinic and retirement village for Filipino American farmworkers. Cesar Chavez conducted his first fast at the Forty Acres in 1968, moved his office into Reuther Hall in 1969 and brought growers to Reuther Hall to sign contracts ending the union's five-year table-grape strike in 1970. Chavez conducted his final fast at the Forty Acres in 1988. Forty Acres was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008. It is owned by the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc. and continues to be a UFW field office.

Filipino Community Hall, Delano

On Sept. 8, 1965, Filipino American farmworkers led by Larry Itliong and affiliated with the AFLCIO's Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee gathered in this building and voted to go on strike against Delano table-grape growers.

When members of the National Farm Workers Association voted to join their strike eight days later, Itliong and other AWOC members made the Filipino Hall available as a joint strike headquarters. The hall became the site of daily meals and regular Friday night meetings featuring speeches, songs and performances by El Teatro Campesino. The hall hosted important visits by United Auto Workers' President Walter Reuther, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and other influential supporters, and became a symbol of the farm labor movement's multi-racial unity during the 1960s. The concrete block and stucco structure, built in 1949 by volunteers from the Filipino American community, now houses the Delano Adult Day Health Care Center and hosts social events.

Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz, Keene

Between 1970 and 1984, the farm labor movement transitioned into a modern labor union, the UFW. This union secured unprecedented gains during these years, which were closely associated with La Paz. A union supporter purchased the property at La Paz in 1971, and leased it to the National Farm Workers Service Center. With 187 acres of land, residential buildings, administrative spaces and maintenance shops, the property supported not only the UFW headquarters and Cesar Chavez's residence, but also the thousands of union members who came to La Paz to help devise organizing strategies, to receive training and to strengthen their sense of solidarity. For Chavez, La Paz became a place where he could retreat, recharge and envision new directions for the UFW. Owned by the National Farm Workers Service Center Inc., Nuestra Senora de La Paz is used as a visitors center and retreat facility (Villa La Paz Conference Center).

Santa Rita Center, Phoenix

Cesar Chavez undertook a 24-day fast in May 1972 to protest an Arizona law that limited farmworkers' rights to conduct strikes and boycotts and to publicize a campaign to recall the governor of Arizona. Chavez conducted 19 days of this fast at the Santa Rita Center, a building associated with Sacred Heart Catholic Church in the south Phoenix barrio known as El Campito. Thousands of Arizona farmworkers and influential supporters such as Coretta Scott King came to the Santa Rita Center to participate in rallies, celebrate nightly Masses, give voice to the movement's newly adopted slogan "Si Se Puede!" and pledge their support for La Causa. Chicanos Por La Causa purchased the structure in 2004 to preserve the structure and develop a community cultural center. The site was listed on the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2007.

March Route, Delano to Sacramento

The March to Sacramento in 1966 was a milestone in the farm labor movement. The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee and National Farm Workers Association had launched their table-grape strike against the Delano-area growers in September 1965. By late winter, union leaders were seeking ways to revitalize the strike. They decided to conduct a 300-mile protest march from Delano to Sacramento, and Chavez devised a theme ("Pilgrimage, Penitence, and Revolution") and a time frame that would coincide with the Lenten season.

More than 100 men and women set out from Delano on March 17, 1966, and thousands of farmworkers and their families joined in for short stretches along the way. The march route passed through 42 cities and towns of the San Joaquin Valley, as well as vast stretches of the agricultural landscape. By the time the marchers entered Sacramento on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1966, the farm worker movement had secured a contract and new waves of support from across the country.

-- National Park Service newsletter

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"They said we didn't have a permit for a parade," he recalled. "It wasn't a parade. It was a march."

Ultimately the pilgrimage was allowed to continue and, before it reached Sacramento 45 years ago, thousands joined the fewer than 80 people who had stood with Bustos and Chavez on that Delano corner.

On Thursday night, Bustos stood a mile and a half away from the spot -- in the union hall at Forty Acres, the small plot west of Delano where much of the United Farm Workers' early history was recorded -- and told federal parks officials how he wanted to see the history of the movement and Chavez preserved.

There must be a central location in Delano where people can connect to the stories, he said. And the Forty Acres site, Bustos said, "would be perfect because this is where it started."

STUDY

Congress has tasked Martha Crusius with investigating the best way to recognize, record and tell the story of Chavez and the farm worker movement.

Crusius, a senior planner with the National Park Service, said she felt the power of that story Thursday as she stood in the same hall as Bustos, just a few yards away from where workers signed their first contracts with Kern County grape growers decades ago.

She doesn't usually have trouble speaking in public.

"I feel myself in this place," she said. "All of the sudden, I'm nervous."

By November, Crusius and her team will finalize a report describing which of the many significant locations in the history of the farm worker movement might be the best candidates for preservation and how best to develop the sites so the Chavez story can be told.

Places could be designated a National Historic Landmark -- which the Forty Acres site has -- or marked with plaques or informative kiosks.

One or more sites could even become a national park under full or partial management by the Park Service.

Crusius said the need for a central, public location for people to visit and learn about Chavez, and some soft of recognition for the route of the 1966 march to Sacramento, were two of the most-often mentioned ideas.

Ultimately Congress will decide what happens after the report is completed, she said.

BIGGER STORY

Cesar's son Paul Chavez, in introducing Crusius to the crowd Thursday, said it was important for the National Park Service to hear what people had to say about Chavez and his legacy.

But the story is made up of more than just a few voices, he said.

"The history is more than the stories of the Chavezes, the Huertas and the Kennedys," Chavez said.

"The real heroes were the farm workers who were willing to walk away from what little they did have to stand up for their rights," echoed Lori de Leon, daughter of UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta.

Like Bustos, many of the people in the room Thursday were there for many of the major historic moments of the 1960s and 1970s.

And they were a diverse group.

Indeed one of the five top sites the National Park Service has looked at in the study so far is the Filipino Community Center in Delano -- where Filipino farm workers first voted to strike in 1965 and the strike headquarters for the coalition of workers created when Chavez's National Farm Workers Association, the precursor to the UFW, joined the strike eight days later.

Napoleon Madrid, a leader in Delano's Filipino community, thanked the Park Service for recognizing the significance of their community building but cautioned against simply recognizing a structure.

Future generations need to be able to feel the history -- to see and watch and hear what happened 45 years ago, he said.

VOICE OF HISTORY

Delano Mayor Pro-Tem Grace Vallejo, who was part of the farm worker movement, argued there should be a museum on the Forty Acres site.

Nuestra Señora de La Paz, the UFW compound in Keene where Cesar Chavez is buried, already has a visitor's center that offers audio and visual history of the movement to visitors.

But people come to Delano, Vallejo said, looking for a place to connect with the history of the movement -- with the places where it started.

When they wander into the Delano Chamber of Commerce, she said, there isn't much to offer them.

De Leon agreed that something larger needs to be built at the site on Garces Highway.

"The Forty Acres was the first place that felt like ours," de Leon said. "The museum should be here."

COOPERATION

For Bustos, the National Park Service study is a great opportunity for the history he lived to be saved and passed on to future generations.

His biggest worry is that the rich and varied history, spread out over several states and four decades, will be too much for the Park Service to wrap its historical arms around.

"There's going to be too many places," he said.

Crusius said she's focusing on getting the people who lived the history to tell the Park Service what is most important to preserve and then develop a starting point for park leaders, lawmakers, cities, nonprofit agencies and the public to begin a conservation effort together.

"The National Park Service cannot do it all, under any circumstances," she said.

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