Obama dedicates Cesar E. Chavez National Monument
President Obama on Monday officially dedicated the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in the Central Valley where the farmworker labor movement took place.
The site in Keene in Kern County served as both home and operational headquarters for Chavez and his United Farm Workers movement.
“It's a story of natural wonders and modern marvels, of fierce battles and quiet progress. But it's also 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,” Obama said.
The ceremony was an emotional moment for the UFW and Chavez supporters. But it was not without some glitches.More than 7,000 people had traveled long distances to witness Obama’s dedication of the three-acre monument in the Tehachapi Mountains between Bakersfield and the Mojave Desert where Chavez was buried.
Only a week ago, National Park Service officials estimated about 4,000 people would show up for the dedication of the first national monument to honor a contemporary Mexican American.
As of Monday, about 1,000 people who had registered for invitations saw them rescinded by the UFW and Chavez foundation.
Among those turned down was Maricela Mares-Alatorre, a community activist from Kettleman City, an impoverished farming community north of Bakersfield.
“We were uninvited Sunday night,” said Mares-Alatorre, who had planned to accompany 13 other Kettleman City residents including her father, a farmworker who had marched in Chavez’s funeral procession in 1993. “They said they were overbooked. We’re heartbroken.”
Marc Grossman, spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, which, along with the union, is headquartered at the site, said the crowd at the site was the biggest since Chavez died in 1993. “Clearly, we all underestimated the passion people have for Cesar, the farmworkers union and the opportunity to see the president,” he said.Roughly a third of the people in attendance were farmworkers who arrived in 32 buses chartered by the UFW. Hundreds more, including schoolchildren from across the Central Valley, came in buses chartered by the National Park Service.
-- Michael A. Memoli and Louis Sahagun