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Tracing the History of Cesar Chavez in the Agriculturally Rich Central Valley

On March 31, civil-rights leader Cesar Chavez would have celebrated his 95thbirthday. This day is also recognized as Cesar Chavez Day, honoring the man who helped found the union that became the United Farm Workers. Kern County was at the heart of Chavez’s movement, and Bakersfield.com offers a few suggestions for how to celebrate his history locally.

The Forty Acres

“The headquarters of the United Farm Workers from 1966 to 1971, The Forty Acres was the location of some of the most pivotal moments of the farmworker labor movement. At The Forty Acres, Chavez held his first three public fasts and farmworkers signed the first union contract that would end the five-year Delano table-grape strike.

‘It was just a huge, instrumental, piece of the history of Cesar’s life,’ said Monica Parra, director of operations for the National Chavez Center.

Designated as a national historic landmark in 2008, the site still contains the original buildings that were used at the time, including a cooperative gas station where Chavez first fasted, a health clinic for farmworkers and a retirement home for displaced Filipino farmworkers, who were vital to the success of the strike.

‘It just really embraces the farmworker movement,’ Parra said of The Forty Acres. ‘It talks about the organizing that took place there, it talks about Cesar’s sacrifices that he was willing to commit himself to the movement and to the people that he was trying to help.’”

Cesar E. Chavez National Monument

“A refuge for Chavez following the UFW’s success during the Delano grape strike, the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument contains the civil rights leader’s home, and his final resting place along with that of his wife, Helen.

The 116-acre park contains many structures that are preserved from the time of their use, like Building 5, which was originally constructed as a children’s hospital in the 1920s, but served as the financial management building for UFW. Chavez’s office and library remain practically untouched since he worked from inside their doors.

He and his wife’s bodies are laid at rest in the Memorial Garden, where thousands of visitors pass through each year.

‘Helen handpicked the roses out there,’ Parra said. ‘There’s just so much beauty out there that it really is serene and it really does give people hope.’

The Cesar Chavez Foundation still bases some of its activities out of the site. On March 31, 25 new American citizens will be naturalized at the site. The organization hopes visitors come away from a visit to the park with a newfound sense of hope.

Most importantly, a trip to either Kern County location can be a reminder that the issues that were fought for by Chavez and the UFW continue to be relevant today.

‘We still want equality. There are still injustices. There’s still so much going on,” Parra said. “To have an American hero like Cesar, especially for the folks that are still fighting so hard, has a tremendous impact on society.’”

For more on the Cesar Chavez legacy, www.chavezfoundation.org


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