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California: New national monument to honor Cesar Chavez

October 02, 2012|By Catharine M. Hamm, Los Angeles Times Travel editor
  • Cesar Chavez, with his wife, Helen, in the 1970s. The Cesar E. Chavez National Monument will be established next week in Keene, Calif., where the farm labor leader and his family lived from the 1970s until his death in 1993.
Cesar Chavez, with his wife, Helen, in the 1970s. The Cesar E. Chavez National… (Cathy Murphy / Getty Images )

Cesar E. Chavez, the son of migrant laborers whose nonviolent struggle for farm laborers’ rights won him comparisons to Gandhi, will be commemorated with a new national monument in Keene, Calif.

President Obama is expected to travel to Keene on Oct. 8 to formally establish the monument, the 398th park unit in the U.S. (A national park generally has “outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena,” according to the National Park Service website. “National monuments, on the other hand ... contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest.”)

The Chavez monument will be at a site known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains. It was here that the United Farm Workers of America was founded in the 1970s, an organization in which Chavez played a pivotal part. Chavez and his family also lived here until his death in 1993. He is buried here and the new monument will include his gravesite.

As a labor activist, Chavez helped farm workers achieve wage increases and better working conditions. He believed in nonviolence and often fasted to accentuate his points. A water-only fast in 1988 was said to have damaged his health.

In the Los Angeles Times obituary for Chavez,  state Sen. Art Torres said: "He was our Gandhi. He was our Dr. Martin Luther King.”

In the obituary, then-President Clinton said, "The labor movement and all Americans have lost a great leader with the death of Cesar Chavez. An inspiring fighter for the cause to which he dedicated his life, Cesar Chavez was an authentic hero to millions of people throughout the world."

Other pending national parks units are the John Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, also in Washington, and the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home National Historic Site in Dixon, Ill. 

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