By Patric Hedlund, with reporting by Donato Ventura and Gunnar Kuepper
Lake of the Woods couple Mary and Donato Ventura stood in line with a festive crowd of 7,000 waiting to catch a shuttle from a Tehachapi parking lot early Monday morning.
They were celebrating the dedication of a section of the 187- acre headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America as a national monument. The UFW, founded in Kern County by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta. This movement made the phrase “Si, se puede!” (Yes, we can!) famous.
Thousands of people were reported to have been turned away from the ceremony October 8 because of overcrowding.
President Barack Obama arrived in a Secret Service convoy traveling across dusty dirt roads through the Tehachapi foothills because the single lane to the compound was so congested with shuttles transporting the press and the public.
The Mountain Communities’ Donato Ventura met Chávez in 1959, shortly after Ventura graduated from University of California at Santa Barbara. He recalls Chávez asked him to teach a class on U.S. citizenship. Ventura later directed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Farmworker Center in Moorpark, he said.
Chávez fought against the hiring of illegal immigrants, a tactic used by California’s agricultural growers to combat expansion of the union.
The organizer often walked in the hills of the La Paz compound (officially Nuestra Señora Reina de La Paz—Our Lady, Queen of Peace) to regain spiritual stamina during his struggle to form the farmworkers’ union, the UFW said in its program.
Media focus on the La Paz dedication was massive during this political year in which the Hispanic vote has grown significantly.
Gunnar Kuepper, who was there to photograph the ceremony for The Mountain Enterprise, said, “There was tremendous media presence. Every Spanish TV station was there; CNN built its own special stage platform for interviews; along with Fox News and NBC.” Broadcast affiliates and national newspapers sent in representatives and published major reports Monday.
“The president said he was humbled to be there, and that it is a reminder that great things can come from humble beginnings,” Kuepper said.
“Chávez is one of the most important historic Latino leaders in the United States,” the National Park Service said, adding, “The UFW was the first permanent agricultural labor union established in the history of the United States.”
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar helped dedicate the spot in the Tehachapi Mountains, about 40 miles east of Bakersfield, 12 miles from Keene, which is where Chávez (1927-1993) is buried. The public is now invited to visit the compound.
This is part of the October 12, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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