United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez and Paul Chavez, son of Cesar. (Photo : Reuters)
For the first time since the 1700s, an American National Park is being dedicated to a Latino.
President Obama is visiting the rural town of Keene, Calif., near Bakersfield, today to announce the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument, which will sit on the site of the deceased labor leader's home and headquarters.
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In the 1970s, Chavez led field workers, the majority of whom were Hispanic, in strikes against grape growers. Chavez and the workers fought for better pay and working conditions, which at the time were even more brutal than they are now.
The site of the monument, Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz, became the headquarters of Chavez's United Farm Workers, and the home of the labor leader until his death in 1993.
"When my father came to La Paz, he was looking for a place to pull back from the daily struggles," said Paul Chavez, son of Cesar and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, to the Associated Press.
"He had a tremendous faith that with some training and confidence, the poorest and least educated among us could take on the biggest industry in the state."
Several hundred people worked on campaigns and programs, forming a tight-knit community. "It was fun, because we were working as a group," said Maria Ybarra, one of the few former workers still living in La Paz. "We were like a family. It was a lot of hard work, but Cesar motivated us."
While the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year, the timing of the dedication is widely seen as an attempt by President Obama to shore up Latino support in a close election.
"I don't think he's doing this just because it's the right thing to do," said Ruben Navarrette, a CNN contributor, to the Los Angeles Times.
"It's crunch time for the campaign," he said. "This is clearly a pitch for any lingering Latino votes Obama hasn't gotten."
Obama is apparently fighting for every vote, since recent polls show him with a 50-point lead of Mitt Romney among Latino voters, with heavy leads in important swing states like Nevada, Florida and Colorado.
He has also reaffirmed his support for the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to this country when they were still children, a bill Romney opposes.