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Latino Conservation Week: An Interview with Andres Chavez

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In honor of Latino Conservation Week, we sat down with the National Chavez Center’s (NCC) Executive Director Andres Chavez to learn about the NCC’s role in preserving the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the importance of landmarks that have been paramount for the Latino civil rights movement.

What is the role of the NCC in preserving Latino history and places?

The core of our work at the National Chavez Center is preserving Cesar Chavez’s legacy and ensuring its relevance. Cesar is the most recognizable Latino civil rights leader of the 20th century. The impact of the farm worker movement he founded and helped inspire extends well beyond the fields. What people saw in Cesar and the farm workers was that with hard work and determination, anything is possible. He said the movement sent out a message to all Latinos that if farm workers could bring change to the fields, it could happen anywhere. Preserving and telling this story is important and necessary because it’s an important part of America’s story. In 2012 the César E. Chávez National Monument—where my grandfather lived and labored his last quarter century at the Tehachapi Mountain town of Keene, Calif.—became the 398th unit of the National Parks Service. It’s the first and only national monument honoring a contemporary Latino figure. Our hope is that this national monument is the first of many to tell the story of Latinos in this nation.

Cesar Chavez is considered a forefather of environmental justice. What part of your grandfather’s legacy are you hoping to cultivate at NCC?

Most people know my Tata Cesar for his work organizing farm workers. Relatively few know about all of his other endeavors and interests. My Tata was a fascinating and complex person with an eclectic curiosity. This is best seen in the library of his office at the Chavez National Monument. The diversity of subjects and titles is incredible. Part of our plan is telling the world more about the Cesar we know. For example, sharing with folks his love for classic jazz music, about how he daily practiced yoga and meditation and his work as a social entrepreneur, just to name a few. His work in environmental justice is certainly an area we want to share more about. For example, the first time DDT was banned in the United States was not by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the mid-1970s, but in United Farm Workers’ contracts with wine grape growers in the late 1960s. My Tata’s last and longest public fast, of 36 days, was in Delano in 1988 over the pesticide poisoning of farm workers and their children.

Why is preserving Latino history through stories and historical landmarks and monuments important?

The mission of the National Park Service is to tell the story of America. Yet former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the story of America couldn’t properly be told without also telling the story of Latinos in America. That’s why Secretary Salazar helped convince President Obama to establish the Chavez National Monument in 2012. That is why it is so important to share more of the diverse history of Latinos with all of the American people—and to get students and others to visit these historical sites.

What is the significance of the National Chavez Center site at Keene?

The National Chavez Center in the Tehachapi Mountains town of Keene, California, had an incredible history prior to when my Tata Cesar and the farm worker movement stepped foot on the grounds. As a kid, I remember running around the 187-acre property and coming across boulders with grinding stones carved into them. Later, I learned the indigenous people of the Kawaiisu tribe lived in and around the area. The site was later owned by the County of Kern and was home to the Stony Brook Retreat, a tuberculosis sanatorium. In 1971 the site became the headquarters of the farm worker movement and was named by my grandfather Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), commonly referred to as La Paz. Interestingly, my Nana Helen Chavez had lived there as a child. She was treated poorly there, so when Tata Cesar wanted to move there, she initially refused.

My Tata’s life was filled with conflict. La Paz was where he began building a community of fellow movement members and volunteers who worked with him full-time for social justice. It became a spiritual harbor for him and other movement staff, who were “paid” $5 a week (doubled to $10 a week in the late ’70s) plus room and board. La Paz offered them respite from tough struggles in the fields and cities. You can learn more about the story by visiting the Chavez National Monument and watching the video in the Visitors Center.

Does NCC consist of any other places?

The National Chavez Center owns and manages two historic properties, the NCC in Keene and the historic “Forty Acres” complex outside Delano. The Forty Acres, in Delano, where the movement was founded and where it was headquartered until 1971, includes a co-op service station where farm workers could buy cheap gas and repair their vehicles, a health clinic, movement offices, a union hall, and the Paulo Agbayani Retirement Village finished in 1974 for elderly and displaced Filipino farm workers with no decent place to live their final years.

Does the NCC advocate to preserve Latino heritage?

Most recently, I testified before Congress in support of H.R. 8046, which would establish a Cesar E. Chavez and Farm Worker Movement National Park in California and Arizona. The NCC works closely with the National Park Service in developing exhibits and programs around the farm worker movement and interpreting its significance for Latinos and all Americans. We have testified and lobbied for state legislation honoring the Filipino farm workers’ contributions to farm labor history, including establishing a Larry Itliong Day in California on October 25 of each year. In 2011 the National Chavez Center hosted Telling America’s Story: American Latino Heritage Initiative La Paz Forum. At this forum, folks from National Parks Service superintendents from across the country gathered to discuss the role of Latinos in American history.

 

As executive director of the National Chavez Center (NCC), Andres Chavez, 28, leads the arm of the Cesar Chavez Foundation that educates and promotes his grandfather’s legacy across the nation. He also oversees two historic properties, including La Paz in Keene, Calif., where Chavez lived and labored his last quarter century, a portion of which is now the César E. Chávez National Monument that the NCC manages in partnership with the National Park Service.

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San Diego Unified School District and Cesar Chavez Foundation Collaborate to Strengthen Students’ Literacy Skills and Social-Emotional Learning

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Students from San Diego Unified School District are developing their hearts and minds this summer with the Cesar Chavez Foundation’s summer literacy curriculum.

SAN DIEGO-[July 6, 2022] Students in grades TK-8 across the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) attending the morning Level Up Academic Program are participating in literacy and language rich lessons incorporating a diverse range of children’s literature, including learning the story of Cesar Chavez and his leadership in the Farm Workers’ Movement. Students build classroom communities, develop reading and writing skills, express themselves through art and dance, and build social-emotional learning skills with this engaging curriculum designed for SDUSD.

The five-week curriculum, created by the Cesar Chavez Foundation, takes a holistic approach through the philosophy of teaching the hearts and minds of students, instilling a sense of pride in their own cultures and respect for other cultures, as they learn about Cesar Chavez and his core values, such as ¡Sí Se Puede! The Chavez Foundation and San Diego Unified teams co-facilitated training for nearly 800 educators on the summer curriculum, including a keynote address by CCF President and Cesar Chavez’ son, Paul Chavez.

“Our work is anchored in Cesar Chavez’s deep belief that, You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride,” said Dr. Celia Garcia Alvarado, Executive Vice President of Education for the Cesar Chavez Foundation. “All students benefit from culturally responsive programs that educate both their hearts and minds, and we are very grateful for the opportunity to partner with San Diego Unified to support their Level Up Academic Program.”

The Chavez Foundation’s Education Fund is dedicated to building a just society by educating the hearts and minds of students through culturally responsive, diverse products and services. The Education Fund partners with schools and districts, offering curricula and academic support services, with a focus on under-resourced communities.

 

 

 

 

 

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Grand Opening of Plaza Ortiz in El Monte

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Cesar Chavez Foundation announces grand opening of high-quality affordable housing community for homeless veterans & low-income residents in El Monte named for U.S. Army Cpl. ‘Mac’ Ortiz Jr. who died during Korean War in 1950 

El Monte, Calif. (June 29, 2022) – The Cesar Chavez Foundation (CCF) held a grand opening celebration on June 29 for a new affordable housing community for homeless veterans and low-income residents in El Monte. The property is named Plaza Ysabel “Mac” Ortiz, in honor of the 19-year-old El Monte native who was killed during the Korean War and whose remains were returned nearly 70 years after he was reported missing in action. The 53 units of housing for homeless veterans and low-income households features onsite social services provided in partnership with Step Up, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit delivering compassionate support to people experiencing serious mental health conditions, and persons who are experiencing chronic homelessness so they can recover, stabilize, and integrate into the community. The property also features a new mural by artist Ignacio Gomez honoring Ysabel “Mac” Ortiz and other community heroes.  

The project houses a Si Se Puede Learning Center, Chavez Foundation’s flagship afterschool program for young residents and 6,849 square feet of space for residential services, recreational meeting space, conference and meeting rooms, and staff office space as well as to provide services and resources for homeless veterans.  

Ysabel “Mac” Ortiz joined the U.S. Army at age 17. He was serving during the Korean War, assigned to an M-19, small anti-aircraft tank with an exposed cockpit in the 7th Infantry Division when he went missing while in combat in North Korea on Dec. 2, 1950. Barely past his 19th birthday, Cpl. Ortiz’s remains were never recovered. DNA testing confirmed he was among the remains of 55 U.S. service members turned over to the U.S. by North Korea almost 70 years later in 2019. He was brought home, buried in Riverside National Cemetery, and posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. 

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Grand Opening of Los Portales de Lena Guerrero in Austin

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Cesar Chavez Foundation announces grand opening of high-quality affordable housing community in Austin named for the late Texas legislator Lena Guerrero

Austin, TX (June 10, 2022) – The Cesar Chavez Foundation (CCF) held a grand opening celebration on June 10 for a new affordable housing community in Austin. Los Portales de Lena Guerrero, named for former community activist and railroad commissioner Lena Guerrero, features 97 units of affordable housing for families including four permanent supportive units for transitional-aged youth in partnership with Lifeworks, an Austin-based nonprofit dedicated to transitioning youth and families from crisis to safety and success.

“We’re pleased to open our our second affordable housing community in Austin to address the needs of Latinos and working families. It’s fitting to name this property after Lena Guerrero, a positive force in the community who fought tirelessly for farmworkers and the disenfranchised,” said Paul Chavez, President, Cesar Chavez Foundation. “She embodied the values of our organization’s founder, civil rights and farm labor leader Cesar Chavez.”

The community houses a Si Se Puede Learning Center, CCF’s flagship afterschool program available to young residents and features a picnic area, playground and multi-use community space as well as provide housing and resources for transitional-aged youth in the Austin area.

The property is named after Lena Guerrero, whose work championed the rights of farmworkers. She was the second Latina elected to the Texas Legislature where she was known as one of the state’s most effective lawmakers. In 1991, she became the first woman and first Latina to serve on the Railroad Commission of Texas where she led the effort to help independent oil and gas producers increase production in Texas at a time when the industry was struggling, and was a strong advocate for the use of alternative fuels.

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Celebrate National Park Week 2022 April 16 to 24!

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Every April, during the presidentially proclaimed National Park Week, we join with the National Park Foundation and the National Park Service to celebrate America’s treasures.

The César E. Chávez National Monument is the 398th unit of the National Park Service administered in a partnership by the park service and the National Chavez Center, part of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. President Barack Obama established César E. Chávez National Monument with a presidential proclamation in 2012. In 1971, Cesar Chavez moved to this property to live and work. The 187-acre property in Keene, California has served as a national headquarters for the United Farm Workers union since 1972. Its remote location provided a sense of security and refuge during a time when violence threatened the people who were part of the farmworker movement. Here, Cesar Chavez fulfilled many of his achievements as an activist and civil rights leader. Thousands of farm workers and supporters flowed through what Chavez named La Paz over the decades to plan and do their daily work—from organizing and boycotting to contract bargaining, administration, and financial management. It is where Chavez lived and labored his last quarter century, and where he is buried with his wife, Helen.

We are thankful for our partners who help preserve and promote Cesar Chavez’s legacy. National Park Week is a time to explore amazing places, discover stories of history and culture, help out, and find your park.

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