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Thousands on hand as Obama dedicates Cesar E. Chavez National Monument

October 8, 2012 |  1:28 pm

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

President Obama designated the home of Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez as a national monument Monday during a ceremony in the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County.

The 187-acre site, known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or simply La Paz, was a center of the United Farm Workers of America starting in 1971, and the place where Chavez and many organizers lived and strategized.

Obama first toured the site, just east of Bakersfield, and said, "Today, we celebrate Cesar Chavez."

Thousands of people were in attendance, many of them wearing shirts and hats with the UFW eagle stitched into the fabric, said Emily Schrepf, Central Valley program manager for the National Parks Conservation Assn.

"It took years of hard work to get to this moment in history," Schrepf said. "There's amazing energy in the air here today. And it's official: The area is marked with pretty new green Cesar E. Chavez National Monument signs."

But not everything went well for the UFW on Monday morning.

More than 7,000 people wanted to attend, many of them having traveled long distances to witness the dedication of the site, where Chavez is buried.

Only a week ago, National Park Service officials figured about 4,000 people would show up for the dedication of the first national monument to honor a contemporary Mexican American.

About 1,000 people who had registered for invitations saw them rescinded by the UFW and the Cedar Chavez Foundation amid issues of overcrowding.

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 farm worker who 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 UFW is headquartered at the site, said the crowd at the site was the biggest since Chavez died. "Clearly, we all underestimated the passion people have for Cesar, the farm workers union and the opportunity to see the president," he said.

[For the record, Oct. 8, 3:05 p.m.: A previous version of this post misspelled Emily Schrepf's last name as Schepf, and she is with the National Parks Conservation Assn., not the National Park Service Foundation as earlier stated.]


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