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Monday, Oct 08 2012 04:24 PM

Thousands gather for La Paz dedication

Related Photos

President Barack Obama is welcomed to La Paz in Keene California by thousands of people who try to shake his hand or take a picture of the President of the United States. President Obama was in La Paz in Keene California Monday to announce 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. Photo by Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

President Barack Obama places a rose at the gravesite of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez Monday. President Obama was at La Paz in Keene California to announce the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. At right is Chavez widow, Helen Chavez. Photo by Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Marine One lands at Tehachapi Airport as alternate transportation for President Barack Obama. Photo by Ed Gordon

Students from Tompkins Elementary wave goodbye as they head to La Paz to listen to President Obama. Nearly 500 students from all of Tehachapi's public schools were in attendance; they were selected by lottery. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

Thousands lined up as they waited to board 18 National Park shuttles that transported them from the parking area in the Capital Hills area north of Highway 58 at Mill Street to La Paz. Photo by Nick Smirnoff

As Americans across the country celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, thousands listened as President Barack Obama announced the establishment of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene on Monday.

The crowd included people of all ages and races who packed the property, which served as the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor movement from the 1970s, until Chavez's death in 1993.

Some held signs supporting the President while others wore t-shirts specially made up for the occasion, including ones that simply said "5th Generation UFW" with Chavez's likeness emblazoned on the front in honor of the late labor and human rights leader.

Obama's visit, which took place during the UFW's 50th anniversary year, won praise from those who have sought to honor Chavez since his death, including Kathy Murguia of Tehachapi, who along with her husband Lupe, were the first employees of the UFW to live on the grounds of La Paz.

"My kids have incredible memories of La Paz," Murguia said. "It's an honor to the history of the movement and a tribute to all of the volunteers that sacrificed so much to make the movement happen."

The Murguias were put in charge of setting up La Paz for the UFW -- dealing with issues like getting the old boilers going and making sure there were keys for all the buildings -- when the union took control of the complex that was originally built in 1929 as Stony Brook Retreat, a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients. And they said their first few years at La Paz were met with hostility from locals.

"The first few days we were here, friends called and told us we should be careful," Murguia said. "People weren't happy that the land had become national farmworker property and wanted to run us off."

Nevertheless, the coupled endured, raised five children while living at La Paz for 13 years and continue to live happing in Tehachapi.

Monday's dedication was special for them.

"This allows us to see what we did in our lives," Lupe Murguia said. "Cesar was a great man and he did so many nice things for so many people."

The President

President Obama's arrival was delayed by about an hour. He arrived at Meadows Field in Bakersfield and was brought by motorcade to La Paz. While waiting for the main event the crowd estimated at 6,600 heard from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez introduced the president.

He took the stage shortly before noon, and his remarks were loud and clear as he spoke about the power of opportunity, encouraging those in attendance to keep forging ahead no matter how hard the circumstances may appear.

"Cesar was always moving ahead and striving," he said. "That is what I hope all of our children and our grandchildren take from this place."

Obama got the loudest cheers when he spoke about Chavez's life and his influence on not only Latinos, but all Americans.

"Our world is a better place because of Cesar Chavez," he said, "This is a historic day."

Tehachapi students

Among the masses that stood shoulder to shoulder in the parking lot in front of the La Paz Education Center, were many local high school students.

"We are here today because we are so close and it has to do with government," said Tehachapi High School senior Joseph Smedberg who made the trek to La Paz with 57 of his classmates and eight teachers.

"It's pretty exciting; because it is not every day you get to see the president."

His classmate, senior Ryan Bilotta, said that he liked how the President addressed the way Chavez brought different ethnic groups together.

"Even if you've never been on a farm; it's the whole movement itself really," he added, "I thought the President's remarks addressed diversity and what an impact Chavez made on the world."

Nearly 500 students from all of Tehachapi's public schools were in attendance; they were selected by lottery.

The monument

Donated by the Cesar Chavez Foundation to the federal government, the three-acre monument area at Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), more commonly called La Paz, is the 398th site included in the U.S. National Park System, and the first to recognize the work of a contemporary Latino American.

Chavez spent the last 22 years of his life at the rural site tucked neatly away in the Tehachapi Mountains approximately 30 miles from Bakersfield, helping to secure basic protections for hundreds of thousands of farm workers across the country.

Today the 187-acre property includes 26 historic buildings and structures with a visitor center, Chavez's office and library, as well as the Cesar Chavez Memorial Garden and burial site.

Obama is the 17th president to exercise the Antiquities Act since it was created to designate and protect unique and historic features in the U.S. The first, being President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, when he designated Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. To date, presidents have designated about 124 monuments totaling nearly 70 million acres.

The National Chavez Center is also the fourth National Monument designated by President Obama using the Antiquities Act., after the previous designations of Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia, Fort Ord National Monument in California, and Chimney Rock in southwestern Colorado.

The monument, which will be managed by the National Park Service in consultation with the National Chavez Center and the Cesar Chavez Foundation, serves as a historical reminder of the struggles Chavez endured side-by-side Dolores Huerta as Chavez's legacy continues to this day heard through the words his memorable mantra -- Si se Puede.

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