Local News

Monday, Oct 08 2012 09:39 AM

Obama dedicates Chavez national monument

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    President Barack Obama helps Helen Chavez as they walk up the stairs to the grave of Helen's late husband, UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez, to place a rose. The president was at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz in Keene to announce the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument there. At left is Paul Chavez, Cesar's son. Third from left is Arturo Rodriguez, UFW president. At right is Dolores Huerta, UFW co-founder. La Paz, as it's called, is the UFW headquarters and the onetime home of Cesar Chavez.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Crowds wait for President Barack Obama to arrive and dedicate the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Even UFW President Arturo Rodriguez had to go through the metal detectors at La Paz.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    At 6 a.m., traffic was already backed up on Highway 58 from the Mill Avenue exit where the parking for visitors is located.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    A view of where ceremonies will be held to dedicate the Cesar Chavez National Monument.

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    By Felix Adamo/The Californian

    UFW President Arturo Rodriquez mingles with the crowd waiting to go through metal detectors.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    In this October photo, President Barack Obama places a rose at the gravesite of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez. Obama was there to announce the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. At right is Chavez's widow, Helen Chavez.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Actress Rosario Dawson, left, spent time posing for photos with fans while they all waited for the president to arrive.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Singer and actor Kris Kristofferson played a song and said a few words to the crowd before the arrival of the president.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    On the roof of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, Secret Service agents keep an eye on things before the arrival of the president.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    President Obama thanks the crowd for the reception he received when he took the podium.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Every hand had a camera or smart phone to take photos when the president took the stage at La Paz.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    President Barack Obama acknowledges the warm reception he received at La Paz.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    President Obama addresses the crowd at the newly established national monument, the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Thousands packed the grounds at La Paz to hear President Barack Obama announce the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    President Obama greets the crowd after his speech at La Paz where he announced the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Thousands gathered in La Paz in Keene California as President Barack Obama announced the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. The La Paz property is recognized for its historic link to civil right icon Cesar Chavez and the farm worker movement.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    People try to touch or get a photo of President Barack Obama at La Paz in Keene where he announced the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    The "Obamanos" bumper sticker was a popular sight at the dedication of Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, CA.

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  20. 20 of 20

    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    People press up to get a close-up look or a handshake from President Barack Obama at La Paz in Keene where he announced the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in La Paz.

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BY JAMES BURGER, COURTENAY EDELHART AND STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writers jburger@bakersfield.com, cedelhart@bakersfield.com, smayer@bakersfield.com

KEENE — President Barack Obama on Monday declared La Paz, the nickname of the United Farm Workers union headquarters and onetime home of Cesar Chavez, a national monument and said it will help tell the story of  “who we are as Americans.”

He said the story is about hardworking people determined to make America “a little more just, a little more free.”

“Generations of Americans will stand where we are standing ... and see a tribute to a great man and a movement,” Obama said.

Before his speech, Obama laid a single red rose on the grave of Chavez.

The sun-splashed event at the longtime UFW compound was crowded with about 6,600 visitors, but many others were unexpectedly shut out.

Organizers said too many people had responded to an email invitation, so over the weekend they began disinviting hundreds, if not thousands, of those who thought they could attend. Facebook pages quickly filled up with the comments of unhappy people whose dream to see the president would be thwarted.

TRIBUTE

Obama’s brief speech, in large part, was a tribute to Chavez and his family, and by extension, to the indomitable spirit of the American people.The nation’s monuments, Obama said, tell a story of people, of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just and a little more free.

“And one of those people lies here, beneath the rose garden at the foot of a hill he used to climb to watch the sunrise,” he said.

Chavez, Obama said, embodied the hope and determination that has been evident in generations of immigrants who looked to America, not just as a place to set down roots, but as a land of unlimited possibilities, for themselves and their posterity.

The president stayed away from overt campaign language, never mentioning the upcoming election or his Republican opponent. His only nod to the election was an acknowledgement that the work Chavez began is not yet finished, that more work needs to be done.

Before Obama spoke, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa addressed the audience. 

Villaraigosa said Chavez taught America “the promise of freedom is not always for the powerful but also the powerless. Not just for those who owned the fields but also the people who worked the fields.”

Solis said Chavez’s legacy is that “work is not just a source of income, it’s a source of dignity” and that Chavez “brought the plight of farmworkers to anyone who would listen and some who would not.”

Salazar said the Interior Department is working to make sure national monuments reflect all people of all backgrounds.

SI SE PUEDE

The crowd erupted into cheers as Cesar Chavez Foundation President Paul Chavez, Cesar's son, took the stage and talked about his father’s connection to Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz.

"He found the place where he could plan and strategize," he said. "But it was more than that for my father. La Paz became a spiritual harbor for him."

Next to come to the stage was UFW President Arturo Rodriguez.

"Si se puede," he shouted, the UFW motto. He was echoed by the crowd.

Farmworkers and supporters from 25 states came to the event, Rodriguez said.

The monument is, he said, a tribute to Chavez but also to the thousands of people who still carry on the legacy he left behind.

"Each farmworker can change the world," Rodriguez said.

Then he introduced Obama.

"Si se puede," the president shouted. The crowd shouted back, "Si se puede."

The president spoke for about 10 minutes then headed back to Meadows Field for departure out of Bakersfield.

SINGLE ROSE

Before making his remarks, Obama stopped to visit Cesar Chavez’s grave.

The gravesite sits amid a lush garden surrounded by low, white adobe walls and arbors of dark wood beams covered in climbing vines. Planters of river rock and terra cotta pots contain a wide variety of flowers and plants. Walkways and steps lead up to the grave, which is flanked by two planters full of red roses.

The Chavez grave is marked by an unpainted wooden cross and low stone marker that sits alone in the midst of a plot of well-tended grass.

Obama was joined by Chavez’s widow, Helen Chavez; Huerta; Paul Chavez; and Rodriguez. The president talked quietly with Helen Chavez at the grave then listened as Paul Chavez, standing in a white shirt, explained the words engraved behind the grave:

“It is my deepest belief that only by giving of our lives do we find life.”

Obama left the gravesite with his arms around Huerta and Helen Chavez.

The president’s visit came a little less than a month before election day, timing not lost on many political pundits and everyday voters who pointed out Obama’s need to turn out the Latino electorate.

Most polls, including CNN’s national survey of likely Latino voters, show Obama is expected to receive close to 70 percent of the Latino vote Nov. 6. But Latino Americans, as a whole, are less likely to vote than whites and blacks, and Latinos are reporting less enthusiasm for the 2012 race than they reported four years ago.

MEMORIES
Thousands began arriving at La Paz as early as 4:30 a.m. to watch Obama dedicate the monument.

Victor Garza brought his 10-year-old son, Arik. The longtime civil rights activist from Fresno has come to pray and meditate at the center but said this visit was special. 

“I wanted to bring my son to meet President Obama because it’s something that he can remember and cherish for the rest of his life,” he said.

Cesar Chavez Elementary School in northeast Bakersfield brought 23 second- through fifth-graders to the event to sing the program’s closing song.

They wore khaki pants or skirts and navy blue school uniform shirts. The girls wore patriotic red, white and blue ribbons in their hair.

They were happy to be there even though the trip in was grueling.

“It was very long, exhausting and slow,” said fifth-grader Kylie Lopez, 9. “But it’s very exciting. I have only seen (Obama) on television and in pictures.”

Roberta Cumberland, 55, of Bakersfield, woke up at 6 a.m. to head out from Bakersfield with her daughter Cara Cumberland, 28.

"I've actually never been to anything political or anything like this before, so this is my first experience like this," Cara said.

Her mother said she wanted to come because she admires both Chavez and the president and considered the event a historic milestone.

"This is the first time a president I've actually supported has come to Kern County," Roberta said.

Cal State Bakersfield seniors Gracy Mendez, 25, and Maria Moreno, 21, said the speech was well worth rising at 4:45 a.m. to get to La Paz from southwest Bakersfield.

"I thought it was inspiring," Mendez said.

Moreno called the address "touching."

"I love the way he used the ‘Si se puede’ slogan from Cesar Chavez."

The Rev. John Schmoll of St. Augustine Church in Lamont wore a UFW cap. His pastor's collar peeked out from beneath a black T-shirt with "Who would Jesus deport?" in bold white letters.

He said the church office closed Monday so its small staff could come, and the speech was "well worth waiting for. You could live your whole life and never see a president, and it was a good speech to top it all off."

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