Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
American Latino Heritage
The Forty Acres
The Forty Acres preserves the legacy of the farm workers movement and César Chávez and helps tell their story. The buildings, the park, roads, and landscaping features are all intact. A visit to this National Historic Landmark provides visitors with the opportunity to see the buildings and grounds that developed as the UFW grew in importance and strength.
César Chávez was born near Yuma, Arizona in 1927. About ten years later, Chávez and his family were forced to leave Arizona after they lost their land during the Great Depression. They went to California where they moved up and down the State searching for work. In these early years of his life, Chávez experienced the poverty and discrimination that often went hand-in-hand with migratory farm work.
After serving in the United States Navy for two years beginning in 1946, Chávez returned to California and became involved with the Community Service Organization (CSO). The CSO organizers helped people in Mexican-American neighborhoods with the everyday tasks of filling out tax forms, getting children into school, and studying for citizenship exams. The organization promoted the idea that community involvement, support, and togetherness could and would positively affect everyone’s lives. The CSO greatly influenced the way in which Chávez eventually organized the farm workers’ movement and future union.
Between 1962 and 1965, Chávez and a small group of fellow activists traveled throughout California’s agricultural regions talking to workers, helping them with problems, and identifying what they needed and wanted from an organization. Chávez and his group of organizers invited the workers to join their new organization, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA). They were careful not to call the new organization a labor union for most farm workers associated “unions” with false promises, empty hopes, and lost strikes. All of this changed on September 8, 1965 when a predominantly Filipino farm workers organization, the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), went on strike against the Californian Delano table-grape growers. Seeing this as a great opportunity to fight for the rights of agricultural workers, within one week the NFWA voted to join the strike.
By the spring of 1966, as the strike gained support and a few months before the two organizations merged to form the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (later known as the United Farm Workers of America Union (UFW)), the NFWA purchased 40 acres of barren land in Delano, California to develop into a farm workers’ service center. Chávez wanted Forty Acres to be a place where lower-income Spanish-speaking farm workers could find assistance, goods, and services that would positively affect their lives. At the service center, he wished to offer health care, banking, legal services, child care, automobile repair, and reasonably priced gas and groceries. Once a barren landscape featuring alkaline soil where little would grow, the UFW transformed “The Forty Acres” into a regional farm workers’ service center and the headquarters of a national movement that would transform the agricultural industry in the United States and inspire thousands of Latinos and other Americans to social and political activism.
From The Forty Acres, Chávez led the UFW grassroots movement to success during the Delano table-grape strike. Construction began on the first major structure to go up at Forty Acres in August 1967, a cooperative gas station facing Garces Highway. The rectangular single-story adobe was built in the Mission or early California style that César Chávez loved and was simple and functional in design. After touring all of the Spanish Californian Missions on his honeymoon, Chávez fell in love with the missions’ architectural style and associated it with feelings of stability, simplicity, and permanence—all of the things he sought for his movement. Richard Chávez, Cesar’s brother, directed the building of the station using volunteer labor, little modern equipment, and donated material. Construction of the service station exemplifies the farm workers movement’s limited financial resources, but also its resourcefulness. Farm workers bought “Huelga Co-op Gas” (strike gas) at the station, which eventually housed a three-bay mechanics shop to fix broken-down union cars.
Completed in late 1967, the Station saw its first major use when Chávez put his own body on the line to revitalize the movement and to focus his followers on the benefits of non-violent tactics in the fight for the cause. Chávez completed his first public fast of 25 days during February and March of 1968 in a tiny 8x9 windowless room off the service station’s breezeway. The room was so small it hardly had room for a single bed. Chávez took a short walk across the station’s breezeway to a large storeroom to attend Mass every day. Chávez’s fast drew national attention to the movement. Supporters flocked to the station every day–a makeshift tent city of hundreds of followers even grew around the station. At the Service Station, Chávez met U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy before ending that fast at an outdoor Mass in Delano.
The movement grew in momentum as strikers appealed to church groups, student activists, pesticide-conscious consumers, and other labor unions and civil rights groups across the nation. The UFW utilized consumer boycotts, marches, community organizing, and nonviolent resistance, to achieve the goals of better pay and working conditions. Between 1967 and 1968, the movement and union received a considerable amount of media attention and gained in strength after they targeted the Giumarra Brother Fruits Company, the largest table-grape grower in California, and decided to boycott the State’s entire table-grape industry, and after Chávez conducted his first public fast. As the movement expanded, they needed a place with office space and began building an administration building in 1968.
With no real time to focus on elaborate architectural plans, the UFW built the Roy L. Reuther Memorial Hall using a functional design, simple and affordable materials, and volunteer labor. Reuther Hall cost only $9,000 to complete and included offices, a services and utilities area, and a multipurpose space. The “multipurpose” space encompassed the entire southwest portion of the building and served as the hiring hall, boycott organizing space, day care facility, and site of social events.
By 1970, the UFW had succeeded in reaching a collective bargaining agreement with the table-grape growers, affecting more than 70,000 farm workers. The signing of the contracts that ended the strike occurred in Reuther Hall at The Forty Acres. The contracts raised wages, protected farm workers from dangerous pesticides, replaced a labor contracting system with union-run hiring halls, funded health care plans, established grievances procedures, mandated that growers provide fresh water and toilets in the fields, and established a fund for community service projects.
After the signing of the contracts that ended the table-grape strike, union leaders knew that the farm workers would have more money to spend on healthcare and began to build a permanent health clinic at The Forty Acres. Resourceful union leaders acquired two county administrative buildings scheduled for demolition and moved them to The Forty Acres for use as the base of the health clinic. Volunteers offered hours of manual labor, adapting the moved buildings with adobe in the Mission style consistent with the rest of the Forty Acres. While most of the clinic was consistent with modern health care facilities at the time, contractors designed the waiting room with brown brick walls on three sides and rich, brown clay floor tiles. The room had large windows and glass doors, which filled the space with daylight. UFW leaders wanted the farm workers to feel at ease and a part of the landscape while waiting to use the clinic, and this waiting room provided that comfort.
Signing the contracts also helped fund another building project for the Paolo Agbayani Retirement Village. The retirement center was the union leaders’ answer to the plight of elderly and displaced Filipino farm workers. Most of the Filipino farm workers had migrated to the United States as young men during the 1920s and 1930s. Strict immigration laws prevented Filipino women from immigrating to California, and California law prohibited the Filipino male immigrants to marry women outside of their own race. This left the Filipino farm workers to live as single men most of their lives at the labor camps on the farms they worked. During the strike, the grape growers evicted most of these men. Since they had been unable to marry and start families, many of the men had nowhere to go.