Obama honors Cesar Chavez with monument

Olivier Knox

KEENE, California—On a California campaign swing, President Barack Obama on Monday honored the late Latino labor activist Cesar Chavez by formally designating the United Farm Workers leader's former home and headquarters as a national monument.

"Today, La Paz joins a long line of national monuments—stretching from the Statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon—monuments that tell the story of who we are as Americans," Obama said. "It's a story of natural wonders and modern marvels; of fierce battles and quiet progress."

"But it's also a story of people—of determined, fearless, hopeful people who have always been willing to devote their lives to making this country a little more just and a little more free," Obama said.

"One of those people lies here, beneath a rose garden at the foot of a hill he used to climb to watch the sun rise. And so today we celebrate Cesar Chavez," the president said.

Chavez was "widely recognized as the most important Latino leader in the United States during the twentieth century," according to a National Park Service brochure given to reporters. He founded the country's first permanent agricultural union and led fights for higher wages and better working conditions.

Obama made his way to this tiny town, nestled in the Tehachapi Mountains, to announce the creation of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument on the property known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz. The site served as the headquarters of Chavez's United Farm Workers, his home and workplace, and includes the grave where he was laid to rest after he died in 1993. His widow Helen still lives on the property (and will continue to do so).

Obama's move, with less than a month to go before Election Day, could have political repercussions: The Democrat is counting on Latino voters to rally behind him to defeat Mitt Romney. It could also burnish his credentials with labor and environmental groups that have not always been happy with the president.

Obama designated the site a national monument under the Antiquities Act—thus avoiding the need for approval from Congress. The total area of the monument is about 105 acres, according to the Department of the Interior.

The VIP guests at the event included Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, Congressman Raul Grijalva, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The president then headed to San Francisco to raise funds for his reelection effort.