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Obama to designate Chavez home as nat'l monument

Associated Press Modified: October 6, 2012 at 2:46 pm •  Published: October 6, 2012

After Chavez's death in 1993, La Paz transformed. Volunteers started to get paid and most organizers moved out to towns and cities in the Central Valley, taking the sense of community and the noise with them. Ybarra, who still works in the mail room, and her husband were one of only two families that remained.

Union membership also declined, from more than 70,000 in the 1970s to what UFW officials say is about 27,000 today. That's based on the number of people who work under union contract at least one day a year. However, the union has reported only about 5,000 members to the U.S. Department of Labor in each of the past eight Decembers, an admittedly slow month for farming.

Today, the La Paz property is quiet and peaceful, except for the regular sound of trains (the historic Tehachapi Loop is only a few miles away) and the occasional chatter of school children who come by the busloads to learn about Chavez's movement. Lizards, squirrels and wild birds abound.

There are exhibits at the visitor center about the UFW and Chavez's office has been carefully preserved. Visitors can also pay respects at Chavez's grave site in the memorial garden and see the house where the farmworker leader lived with his family — his widow Helen Chavez still lives there. Those three sites will be part of the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument.

A conference and education center opened two years ago on the property in a converted historic building. It rents out halls, a theater, and a full service lounge for weddings, conferences and retreats.

The hope, Paul Chavez said, is that the center can go back to doing what Cesar Chavez once did: training regular people such as farmworkers, community leaders and activists in how to make change.

"If they can come here and we can give them some tools, and they can go back to their communities to use them, then I think my dad's legacy has been served," he said.

The national monument, which will be managed by the National Park Service, will bring more visitors to learn about the farmworker movement, Paul Chavez said.

The designation also will help diversify the offerings of the National Park System, said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, an independent nonprofit that pushed to make the Chavez property the 398th site in the system.

"The whole purpose of the National Park System is to speak of what it means to be American and tell the stories of Americans," he said. "The Latino culture and stories are not adequately told and interpreted throughout the park system, and this designation helps fill that void."