The Chavez National Monument Honors the Man and the Latino Workers He Championed

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

In a moving ceremony this week, President Barack Obama designated the home and final resting place of one of the Latino community’s greatest icons, Cesar Chavez, as both a national monument and a national park.

Members of the NCLR familia—Board members and Affiliates, including the Cesar Chavez Foundation, many of whom have worked for decades with Chavez and the United Farm Workers (UFW)—were privileged to be present at the ceremony, acknowledging a man who played such a vital role for the millions of Latinos across the country who still remember and revere his legacy.  The recognition of such an integral part of our history is something that our community will not soon forget.

One of the great things about this monument is that it is so fitting a tribute to Cesar Chavez.  I have talked with Arturo Rodriguez—Chavez’s successor as UFW President and a former, much-revered member of the NCLR Board of Directors—many times about the Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz property.  While the property is modest and humble, much like Chavez himself, it is also, like him, a deeply inspiring and spiritual place.  As the headquarters of the UFW, it is a living testament to what a small group of people—from even the humblest backgrounds—can do to change the world.

Before Chavez and the UFW, those who picked our crops and put food on our tables were invisible.  In an act of unfathomable courage and self-sacrifice—his 25-day fast in 1968—Chavez called attention to the plight of America’s farmworkers, inspiring leaders from all over the country to join him in this struggle.  The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram expressing solidarity.  The Kennedy family, led by Robert F. Kennedy, went to his side.

By the end of the fast, Chavez had made great strides in his quest to bring dignity, respect, and humanity to the neglected and mistreated workers in our country’s history.  He put a face and a name to the people who toiled in the fields for pennies a day and without access to basic needs such as clean water and sanitation.  The farmworkers behind the produce on the shelves of America’s grocery stores now had a voice.

Alongside monuments to presidents, generals, and other famous men and women, we now have a monument to those workers whose names we don’t know and who will never be in any history books—a true testament to our nation that we honor all of our heroes.  Because, as Chavez often said during the course of his life:  by honoring me, you are really honoring them.

The greatest way to honor Chavez is by continuing his struggle.  We still have a long way to go to get full equality, respect, and dignity for our farmworkers.  And we are fighting those who refuse to see the humanity of today’s immigrant workers and wish to make them again invisible.

The designation of this new monument does many things:  it cements Chavez’s rightful place in American history, it ensures that that history will not be lost to future generations, and it gives us a much-needed educational tool and powerful symbol in our effort to fulfill Chavez’s legacy.  We are grateful to President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for making this long-held dream a reality.

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