Home of César Chávez Becomes Latest National Monument

PHOTO: President Barack Obama walks with Cesar Chavez widow Helen F. Chavez, left, and Dolores Huerta, Co-Founder of the United Farm Workers, as they tour the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument Memorial Garden, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in Keene, Calif.
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President Obama on Monday declared the California home of renowned labor leader César Chávez a national monument.

Chávez is known as the father of the farm labor movement in the 1960s, and fought for better working conditions, especially for Latino farm workers and their families.

"Our world is a better place because César Chávez decided to change it. Let us honor his memory, but most importantly, let us live up to his example. Sí, se puede. Sí, se puede. Sí, se puede," Obama said of Chávez at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz - Our Lady Queen of Peace - in Keene, California.

The opening of the monument comes just shy of a month before the presidential election, and both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have sought out opportunities to cater to Latinos.

While nearly three-quarters of Latino voters are expected to cast ballots for the president, Romney has launched Spanish-language ads in swing states and touted his commitment to small business owners as an attempt to appeal to Hispanic voters. Both men also appeared at "Meet the Candidate" events hosted by Univision last month in Miami, Florida.

Obama acknowledged during his brief remarks at La Paz that Latinos have a higher than average unemployment rate - the Latino unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent compared to a national average of just below eight percent - and said Chávez fought for farm workers even in the face of adversity.

He called the story of the movement "a story of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have been willing to devote their lives to making the country a little more just and a little more fair."

Chávez passed away in 1993, but Dolores Huerta, with whom he founded the National Farm Workers Association, now the United Farm Workers, attended the ceremony along with Chávez' wife Helen, who continues to live on the property.

"Today, Helen, we are your guests," the president said, "and you should feel free to kick us out whenever you want."

La Paz also continues to serve as the United Farm Workers of America headquarters. Obama declared 105 acres of the La Paz property a national monument that will be managed by the National Park Service. It is the 398th unit of the national park system.

"Every time somebody's son or daughter comes and learns about the history of this monument, I want them to know that our journey is never hopeless; our work is never done," Obama said.

Obama recalled Chávez' boyhood, including the fact he attended some 65 elementary schools as he followed the crop cycle.

His son and president of the César Chávez Foundation, Paul Chávez, who spoke before Obama, said La Paz became "a spiritual harbor" for his father, a respite from the tough campaigns he fought in the fields and cities across the country.

"Now the story of César Chávez and the contributions of those thousands of Latinos and immigrants who joined 'La Causa' will be shared with Americans," he said.

In addition to members of the Chávez family, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar where on hand for the event.

"Today, La Paz is enshrined as a place where civll rights for millions of Latino families was born," Solis said.

"Once social justice change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read," she recalled Chávez saying.

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