During the Labor Day Weekend, (2007), I made a pilgrimage of sorts,to Keene, California. Keene is the home of the National Chavez Center at Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz, or simply La Paz for short (Spanish for Peace).
Established by the much revered civil worker, Cesar Chavez in the early 1970’s, La Paz became his home, as well as the base of his operations. Chavez is most remembered as being the person that was instrumental in organizing the farm workers, and being the founder of the United Farm Workers Union. As monumental as those credits are, he was so much more. He pioneered the modern model for the non-violent methods of civil disobedience demonstrated by Gandhi in much the same way as Martin Luther King, Jr. The greatest contribution of Cesar Chavez was to give hope to an entire category of people who were historically exploited, disenfranchised, and lacking in the basic rights we know as human rights and civil rights.
This refuge is set on 187 acres amid oaks and spectacular rock outcroppings in the Tehachapi Mountains. It is nestled in a quiet valley that offers a natural scenery that is breath taking even without all of enhanced landscaping on the grounds. La Paz is located 30 minutes east of Bakersfield and two and a half hours north of Los Angeles. It is also 100 miles from our home in Barstow.
The center features a museum, a cafeteria, a conference center, a cactus garden, and a mission-style courtyard that includes the sacred burial gravesite for Cesar Chavez.
Animal Rights Crusader, and Champion of the Farm Workers
The originally facility was established by the County as a tuberculosis center for patients needing rest and sunshine. The Civil Rights leader relocated his operations there in the early 70's from Delano. Beyond just his home, it soon became the center of his operations and a refuge for his spiritual nurturing.
The facilities includes the carefully preserved office and library in the 7,000 square foot Visitor Center which served as Chavez’s headquarters. La Paz more importantly served as his personal refuge and spiritual harbor, from where he drew inspiration, learned, strategize and engaged people. Notice the statue of St. Francis of Assisi in the corner which served as a constant source of inspiration for the love of animals as part of all life.
La Paz is an American treasure and is considered to be the Nation’s primary facility for educating the public about the life, work, and values of Cesar E. Chavez. For me it is much, much, more than that. As an activist for issues such as the environment, freedom of choice in alternative medicine (natural medicine), civil rights, equal rights, and lately the ancestral rights of Native Americans, I know that I stand on the shoulders of those great souls who have gone before us. Just like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez paved the way and developed the mechanisms for social change. It is their values, methods, and style that we seek to emulate in our current struggle to bring social change in the direction of "Justice, liberty, and Equality for all."
I only had one encounter with Cesar Chavez when he spoke at UC Davis (more on this in another post), but he was and will always be an enormous influence on my life and my path of community activism. As is the case with most activist today, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi, are the role model by which we seek change in the world we live in. Everyone that seeks social change in any arena must give thanks to these great souls for pointing the way.
The occasion of my journey to this pristine refuge was a celebration event honoring the newly formed Democratic 34th AD Committee. I am a delegate from the 34th AD to the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee(SBCDCC) and the California Democratic Party. While the bulk of the population in the 34th AD lies on the other side of the Tehachapi mountains, as President of the Mojave Desert Democratic Club, I have been pushing our club members to join the new 34th AD Committee as a way to increase our visibility here in Barstow. So I take a little pride in the fact that our Democratic Club now represents half of the total membership in the new 34th AD Committee.
Lita Reid, attorney and tireless, life-long Democratic organizer has been working overtime to get our new committee chartered under the state party. This meeting was designed and co-ordinated by her to celebrate that accomplishment. Her selection of La Paz as a venue, and Labor Day weekend for the timing of the event, is quite appropriate for Democrats since our party is the party of the working class. Within the days leading up to this event, Lita was able to confirm that Paul F. Chavez, Cesar’s son would be the keynote speaker.
Paul is the President of the National Farm Workers Service Center, Inc. (NFWSC) which he co-founded with his father. He has devoted himself to the preservation of his father’s legacy and the refocusing of his movement into the future. Since 1991, the NFWSC under the leadership of Paul Chavez, has achieved impressive gains in two key areas, dramatically changing the lives of farm workers, Latinos and other working families.
The National Farm Workers Service Center (NFWSC) has preserved, developed and rehabilitated more than 4,000 units of high-quality affordable rental housing and built more than 600 single-family homes, all for low- and very low-income Latino and other working families. The NFWSC has also taken the Radio Campesina, the Spanish-language educational Farm Worker Radio Network, and developed it into nine stations with a strong presence in markets totaling roughly 2 million Latino listeners in California, Arizona and Washington state.
In his speech to our committee, Paul explained that they are making a major emphasis on the education of the next generation born to farm workers. Paul said that they are trying to get the students refocused away from the technical trades and into a pre-college path of education that will train them to compete for the higher paying white collar jobs.
Paul Chavez told us how the NFWSC has developed a three prong approach. The first, is to put early emphasis on reading by the third grade level to combat the drop out rate caused by illiteracy. The second, is strong emphasis on algebra at the middle school level to open the doors of engineering, and other sciences. The third prong of their focus is on Enlish as a second language to lift the primary obstacle keeping Latinos from piercing the barriers leading to higher paying jobs.
During Paul’s comments, I was able to ask him a question that was prominent on my mind. I told him that many people that carry the consciousness created in the 60’s and 70’s concerning the efforts toward social change. Other people from generations that followed are also tuning into the idea that ‘We the People’ must take control of our destiny to create that change. So my question quite simply was what people who would embrace the causes pioneered by his father and being carried on under his leadership, what could they do to get involved and keep his father’s dream alive.
Here is his response:
For me it was a high honor to meet the son of Cesar Chavez and tour the grounds of his refuge at La Paz. As the someone who also has born the responsibility of carrying on the legacy of my own father, I can’t help feel a special bond with Paul Chavez. I was quite inspired to see his efforts first hand and realize how proud his father must be of him now. This journey to La Paz, was for me, a pilgrimage to pay homage to a great leader and my hero. It is no exaggeration to say that this was an experience that I will cherish always. I look forward to my return visit and I my mind is busy at work thinking of ideas on how I can support and even corroborate with the great work of Cesar Chavez through his son Paul.
Thank you Paul for such excellent inspirational comments! We appreciated you taking time out to speak with us. We all love the tremendous contribution that your father made toward Civil Rights. And we appreciate all the hard work that you have personally invested in preserving your father's legacy. Most importantly, for our children's future, we honor you and thank you for all of the tremendous contributions you have selflessly given in continuing that work and keeping it relevant to the current battle for Social Justice!
We Love You!
More Info regarding tours, programs, conferences, and special events at the National Chavez Center contact:
29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road
Keene, CA 93531
(661) 823-6134 office
(661) 823-6246 fax