President Obama made his first visit to Central California today, as he dedicated the Cesar Chavez National Monument in the Tehachapi mountain community of Keene. The site served as headquarters for Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union for decades.
The President told a crowd of over 6,000 people that Chavez was a hero for all Americans in his fight for justice, and the site, called Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace) or La Paz, is a tribute to his legacy.
"Today La Paz joins a long time of national monuments, stretching from the statue of Liberty to the Grand Canyon. Monument that tell the story of who we are as Americans. A story of natural wonders and modern marvels, of fierce battles and of 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 make this country a little more just, and a little more free."
Mr. Obama said that the impact of Chavez's life has been felt throughout America.
"Our world is a better place because Cesar Chavez decided to change it. Let us honor his memory, but most importantly, let us live up to his example."
While his speech largely avoided direct references to the campaign, he cited Chavez's work in the context of today's struggling economy.
"Cesar didn't believe in helping those who refuse to help themselves. But he did believe that when someone who works 12 hours a day in the fields can earn enough to put food on the table, and maybe save up enough to buy a home, that makes our community strong, that lifts up our entire economy."
Marc Grossman, who worked closely with Chavez for years as his spokesperson, says the presidential honor is an important part of keeping Chavez's legacy alive.
"His legacy really transcended farm labor and even transcended the Latino community. It was a universal message of what it means to give people hope and empowerment and social justice, and La Paz reflected his life's work."
Mr. Obama went on to compare Chavez to other civil rights leaders, including the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his efforts in the fight for equality.
"More than higher wages or better working conditions, that was Cesar's gift to us. A reminder that we are all God's children. That every life has value."
The event was not without its problems. Over a thousand individuals who had registered to attend found out as late as Sunday that they would be turned away due to space concerns. And of the several thousand who did make it to the remote site in Kern County, many waited well into the afternoon before they could catch a bus to leave the compound.
The president closed his remarks with the familiar rallying cry of the UFW, which also inspired Obama's own "yes we can" slogan from the 2008 campaign: "Si, se puede! Si, se puede! Si, se puede!"