KEENE, Calif. (AP) — Maria Ybarra's trailer is one of two left on the property that for over two decades was home to Latino labor leader Cesar Chavez and farmworkers like Ybarra who made up his movement.
Today, the foothills of the Tehachapi mountains continue to house the United Farm Workers of America headquarters and memorials to Chavez, though farmworkers no longer live there.
On Monday, during a campaign swing through California, President Barack Obama will designate 105 acres of the property as a national monument within the National Park system — a move that could help shore up support from Hispanic and progressive voters before the election.
As head of the UFW, the Arizona-born Chavez staged a massive grape boycott and countless field strikes, and forced growers to sign contracts providing better pay and working conditions to the predominantly Latino farmworkers. He was credited with inspiring millions of other Latinos in their fight for more educational opportunities, better housing and more political power.
The 187-acre site, known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or simply La Paz, served as the planning and coordination center of the UFW starting in 1971. It's where Chavez and many organizers lived, trained and strategized before heading into the fields and cities of California and beyond. Chavez taught farmworkers how to write contracts and negotiate with growers.
"When my father came to La Paz, he was looking for a place to pull back from the daily struggles," said Paul Chavez, Cesar's middle son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. "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."
Ybarra still remembers those times and how Chavez's movement coalesced around the property that she calls home.
Several hundred adults and children were housed at La Paz throughout the 1970s and 80s, Ybarra and her husband Miguel Ybarra among them, most in trailers on the hillside and in dorms. Kids played among the oak trees, while adults worked. "It was a lot of noise," Ybarra said.
La Paz was a city unto itself: it had a Montessori school, a hospital, a legal department, a credit union, even a gas station. People worked as volunteers — paid symbolically $5 per week. There was a community kitchen and everyone ate together.
"It was fun, because we were working as a group," said Ybarra, who first came to La Paz in 1973 and moved there permanently a few years later. "We were like a family. It was a lot of hard work, but Cesar motivated us."
While Ybarra worked in the mail room and raised her children, her husband, now retired, was Chavez's longtime personal driver.
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