National Park Getaway: César E. Chávez National Monument

By Malinee Crapsey, Park Ranger, César E. Chávez National Monument
Historic image of Cesar Chavez carrying a picket sign
Chávez carried National Farm Workers Association and United Farm Workers signs on many picket lines.

Image courtesy of Wayne State University

Chances are that you have heard the name César Chávez. You may have driven on a road or past a school that bears his name. If you were alive during the 1960s and '70s, you may remember his work—maybe you even boycotted grapes five decades ago! But do you know much about Chávez? Have you ever met a member of the United Farm Workers? Do you know firsthand the challenges of the people who plant, tend, and harvest so much of this country’s food?

This new national monument offers insight into why this man and the struggles of farmworkers mean so much to American agriculture, both the industry and its people. A visit to César E. Chávez National Monument will fill your mind and your heart with the spirit of ¡Sí se puede!―Yes we can!

Chávez was forced by circumstances to enter the ranks of migrant workers while still a child. As an adult, he joined forces in 1965 with prominent activist leaders such as Dolores Huerta and Larry Itliong to improve the lives of farmworkers. Over time, he grew to be one of the most important Latino leaders in the 20th century, supported by many others who were willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. Death threats against them and violence on the picket lines became part of their daily lives.
Cesar Chavez's desk covered with papers
Chávez’s office, unchanged since he died, reveals his values, his heroes, and his interests.

NPS Photo

In order to escape violence and focus on the movement, Chávez moved the United Farm Workers headquarters up from California’s Central Valley to the nearby mountains. He named the place La Paz, short for Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, or “Our Lady Queen of Peace.”

At La Paz, Chávez plus thousands of workers and volunteers advanced the movement to help farmworkers, other low-wage workers, and their families. They fought for safe working conditions; fair pay; access to banking, health care, and pensions; and protection from the unregulated use of hazardous chemicals where people worked.

The national monument is located in a rural, arid area just west of Tehachapi Pass on Highway 58, at the southern end of California’s Sierra Nevada. This is the same route travelled by the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s classic novel “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Cross-shaped tombstone and wall-shaped fountain
Chávez's family built a garden rich with symbolism around his grave. Carvings on the fountain depict the diverse people who marched for justice and the five streams of water flow to honor the five martyrs of "La Causa," or "the Cause."

NPS Photo

Stop at this oasis of community and history. Come to remember, to learn, to contemplate the challenges and gifts of social change. Exhibits illustrate the great Delano Grape Strike of 1965 and preserve Chávez’s office, full of the books, images, and objects that influenced him. A garden, rich with roses and symbols of the non-violent movement, surrounds the graves of César and his wife Helen Chávez.

Twice a year naturalization ceremonies are held in the park, one on Chávez’s birthday (March 31, National César Chávez Day) and one on the anniversary of the designation of the monument on October 8, 2012. Early in the year, you’ll be dazzled by wildflowers on the open slopes; a few months later you can enjoy the blooms of the monument’s gardens.

Can’t make it in person? Take a virtual tour of the park. Bienvenidos!

César E. Chávez National Monument

Last updated: June 30, 2017