04 Aug Walking in the Footsteps of Giants, Pt. I
As you may remember, I mentioned that I would be doing my site visit this past week and that I would finally be able to see the César E. Chavez National Monument (CECH) for myself. Well, I drove to Keene, CA after visiting with my parents on Sunday and arrived just as the sun was beginning to set. I met with Ruben Andrade, Superintendent of the CECH, and my boss. I got settled into a duplex right in La Paz, had dinner, and rested for the events of the following day. Now, a little about the layout of the CECH. So the National Monument is located in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains in Keene, CA. In the same vicinity you can also find the administration offices for the César Chavez Foundation, the César Chavez Center, and various others, as well as Villa la Paz–a retreat center. Together with these and other homesteads on this property, they make up what César Chavez came to call Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, or simply, La Paz. So, on Monday Ruben took me to Delano, CA to view the site of The Forty Acres and the farming town where the entire farm workers movement started. Here, I was able to see the gas station where many of the former UFWA meetings were held and Agbayani Village, a retirement home for older Filipino farm workers of the time. In both of these locations I also saw the room where Chavez stayed during his 1968 fast to emphasize the UFWA’s commitment to non-violence and the room that he occupied during his 1988 fast dedicated to his plight against toxic pesticides in the fields. There was something very real about walking through the halls and roads that many farm workers of that time had walked along before. At this point, one can only observe and close our eyes to imagine what this place would have looked like in its “heyday”. That was a time of so much fight and passion and hope. It was a time that defined the Chicano movement for years to come and that would come to inspire many on their rode for social justice and civil rights for all disenfranchised peoples. After picking some grapes fresh off the vine and a delicious burrito for lunch, we continued our tour of important places in Delano. Some of these included: the former home of Cesar and Helen Chavez, the former home of Dolores Huerta, the location of the first UFWA headquarters, the motel that saw the first contract being signed between local growers and the UFWA, the high school where Bobby Kennedy, who was a key supporter of the farm workers movement, made various speeches during the time. All in all, it was definitely a powerful experience.
The next few days were really a blur. I was able to walk through the exhibit at the Visitor’s Center and see César Chavez’s preserved office. On one occasion I was lucky enough to be invited by the César Chavez Foundation to a dinner with various instructors from the Si Se Puede Learning Centers who were in town for a conference. Here, I dined with them and had a chance to meet Paul Chavez and arrange a meeting for the next day where I sat with him and Monica Parra, Director of Operations for the National Chavez Center, and talk about their vision of education and how the Center plays a role in this. I also hada chance to sit down and speak to Bernadette. who has been running the Visitor’s Center for some time, and discuss various education programs that had been in place before. All in all, it was a blessing to take leisurely walks on the grounds as the sun was setting, to sit down and read a book in the Memorial Garden where César is buried, and stay on the grounds of La Paz.I definitely gained a better perspective with the work that I am doing and the activities that I am developing for youth and am excited to finish off my internship strong! I truly learned why it was called “La Paz” and why it became a place for Chavez to retreat to and plan and organize; to really get away from the normal hustle and bustle of the farm workers movement and re-energize. And despite it being a site visit for work, it definitely became something similar for me. ¡Hasta pronto!