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Cesar Chavez Center

It's hard to find an area that country that hasn't felt the impact of Cesar Chavez. Up and down the state you'll find streets, schools and other public spaces dedicated in his name. But it's lost on many that the roots of the farm labor movement were sewn in Kern County, and it's here that his legacy lives on.

Opened in April of 2004, the National Chavez Center at Keene is a living memorial dedicated to the advancement of the Chavez legacy. The 187-acre site includes a visitor center and memorial garden. Docent-led tours, documentary films and photo exhibits offer insight into Chavez's life and the impact he had on Kern County, Central California, and the world.

The center is built around the renovated wood-frame building where Chavez worked from 1971 to 1993. It utilizes diverse exhibits and archival footage to educate people about his life, work and values. Chavez employed peaceful tactics such as fasts, boycotts, strikes and pilgrimages to achieve his goal of nonviolent conflict-reconciliation and social change.

A trip through the 7,000-square-foot visitor center includes a stop in Chavez's carefully-preserved office and library, where a pair of audiovisual presentations put a human touch on the labor leader. View the story of how one of Chavez's grand-children remembers her grandfather, along with an account of how his innovation and determination inspired and touched lives.

A theater screens documentary films, while exhibits reveal the story and mission of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation. The center also features a museum, gift shop, cafeteria, conference center, cactus garden, and a mission-style courtyard that includes Chavez's burial site and memorial.

The building itself has an interesting history. The original facility at Nuestra Senora Reina de La Paz was created by Kern County as a tuberculosis center for patients needing rest and sunshine. Chavez moved his operations there in the early 70s from Delano.

Outdoor walking tours highlight a unique combination of gardens with native plants Ė including a rose named for Chavez. The fountains and sculptures seen here were crafted from volcanic stone that was quarried and carved in Mexico. The arbor at the garden's entrance even has a history; century-old redwood beams originally used in railroad bridges were used to construct it.

May marked the 40th anniversary of Chavez's historic fast for non-violence, often looked upon as a pivotal event that focused attention on the growing farm-worker movement. The Chavez Foundation took advantage of the opportunity to unveil a photo exhibit focused on the event, so those who've seen the center before have reason to entertain thoughts of a return trip.

A second-generation American, Chavez was born in 1927 near Yuma, Arizona. He and his family became migrant farm workers in the Central Valley after losing their farm during the Great Depression. Chavez was ten the time. By the time he left school after the eighth grade, he had attended more than thirty elementary and middle schools.

In 1962, he founded the National Farm Workers Association -- which later became the United Farm Workers of America. Chavez led the UFW from 1962 to 1993 and his leadership resulted in the first industry-wide labor contracts in the history of American agriculture. Chavez's union's efforts also led to the passage of the 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act.

Chavez passed away in 1993, and more than 50,000 people attended funeral services in Delano. In 1994, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America.

The National Chavez Center is located at 29700 Woodford-Tehachapi Road in Keene, about 30 miles east of Bakersfield and eight miles west of Tehachapi. The center is open 10 am-4 pm, seven days a week, and for special tour and educational programs. Find out more by calling (661) 823-6134.

To learn about even more things to do in Kern County, visit the Board of Trade's web site at

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