William & Mary University celebrated Latinx Heritage Month with a photo exhibition commemorating the life of Cesar Chavez.
The exhibition “Cesar Chavez: Legacy of a Leader” displayed 30 historic black and white photographs from the National Chavez Center archives. The exhibition gave an overview of the life and work of Cesar Chavez, beginning with his early life on an Arizona homestead and highlighting his efforts to unite farm workers through community organizing, labor strikes, marches, and boycotts. Notably, the exhibition focused on the 1965 Delano, California, grape strike, a turning point in the American labor movement.
The Muscarelle Museum of Art’s director of engagement, Steve Prince, and facilities and exhibitions manager, Kevin Gilliam, curated the exhibition. The Center for Student Diversity organized it with the aim of acknowledging and celebrating the achievements and contributions of Latinx students, faculty, and staff to the William & Mary community.
Andres Chavez, the executive director of the National Chavez Center and Cesar Chavez’s grandson, stated, “Partnerships like this are an opportunity for us to re-introduce Cesar Chavez to modern audiences and in modern contexts.” He added that Cesar’s legacy is widespread and nuanced, and they are thrilled to share it with students and scholars from across the United States as they lead up to the centennial of Cesar Chavez’s birth in 2027.
The grand opening of “Cesar Chavez: Legacy of a Leader” was held on September 22 and featured a keynote speech by Arturo Rodriguez, president emeritus of the UFW, who was its president for 25 years after Cesar Chavez’s death.
Eric Romero, director of archives at the National Chavez Center, and Prince conducted a community flag-making event with students at Lafayette High School. The event was based on the historic UFW work of boycotts, strikes, and marches. Members and supporters of the UFW would gather in community spaces to design and produce picket signs, banners, and flags for the movement. According to Romero, “This show is a great opportunity for us to strengthen our outreach programs and begin sharing our organizational archives to find meaningful historical documents that showcase the legacy of Cesar Chavez.”
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The event is free to the public and hosted by the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument and National Parks Service in partnership with the National Chavez Center, the Cesar Chavez Foundation, and National Park Foundation. Speakers include Chavez foundation President Paul F. Chavez; Frank Lands, regional director of the National Park Service; and Anne Stephan, superintendent of Chavez national monument. Visitors are invited to view new exhibits in the monument’s Visitor Center, get a special National Parks Passport commemorative cancellation stamp, and see the newly restored exterior of the modest nearby Chavez family home, where Cesar and Helen Chavez and their children resided.
The Chavez national monument was established on Oct. 8, 2012, by President Obama through Presidential Proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to honor the life and work of Cesar Chavez, particularly his role as a 20th Century Latino civil rights leader and his passionate dedication to the American farm worker movement. The monument is open year-round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
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.
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.