Last October 8, we had the privilege of welcoming President Obama as he joined 7,000 farm workers and supporters at the dedication of the Cesar Chavez National Monument at La Paz in the small Tehachapi Mountain town of Keene, Calif. This 398th unit of the National Park Service includes a Visitor Center and museum hosting Cesar’s carefully preserved office, a Memorial Garden with his gravesite and the modest two-bedroom wood-frame house where he lived his last 22 years.
Many milestones of the farm worker movement took place on these grounds where giants walked. Some of those giants, like Cesar Chavez, are well known. But we know that the names of countless others are mostly lost to history. So we acknowledge the new National Monument in the spirit of honoring Cesar Chavez as well as the thousands of farm workers, Latinos and many others who gave themselves to the cause.
Cesar said that if the movement didn’t survive his death then his work would have been in vain. So the National Monument President Obama dedicated also affirms the men and women in our movement who labor daily to keep Cesar’s work alive by aggressively organizing farm workers and negotiating union contracts, including the three, soon to be four, UFW agreements hammered out since last spring protecting 2,000 San Joaquin Valley tomato workers. Our movement also preserves Cesar’s legacy by aiding workers outside the job site by building and managing 30 high-quality affordable housing communities in four states for low- and very low-income working families and seniors, and by running a nine-station network of educational Spanish-language radio stations reaching 500,000 daily listeners in four states.
For Cesar Chavez, "Si Se Puede!" (or "Yes We Can!") wasn’t just a slogan.
Cesar believed in Si Se Puede! He believed in us. He believed that no matter how humble our homes, how old our cars, how little we have, each of us, each farm worker, can change the world. Si Se Puede!
Our movement knows only too well that we live in a world where too many people with power use it to say "no."
Mitt Romney has said no, no on the DREAM Act and no relief from deportation, to the tens of thousands of young immigrants who were brought to this country when they were young.
Mitt Romney has said no, no ability to earn legal status, to the hard-working, tax-paying immigrant farm workers who toil and sacrifice to produce the great bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables over which Americans give thanks every day at our dinner tables.
Mitt Romney has said no, no ability to earn legal status, to the millions of other hard-working, tax-paying immigrant workers without whose dedicated labor key sectors of the American economy could not function.
Four years ago President Obama took Cesar Chavez’s belief in Si Se Puede! and made a nation believe in Yes We Can! And when he was elected, the President used his power to say yes.
Yes we can have two Latino cabinet secretaries who are lifelong champions of Latino and farm worker rights: U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Yes we can have a secretary of labor whose first major act upon assuming office was protecting the rights of farm workers that had been compromised during the final days of the administration of President George W. Bush.
Yes we can have the first Latina justice of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Yes we can ensure relief from fear of deportation for thousands of young immigrants who grew up in this nation and are American in every way.
Yes we can witness the launching last May 5 in San Diego of the USNS Cesar Chavez, a Lewis and Clark-class noncombatant cargo ship and the first U.S. Navy vessel named in honor of a Latino.
Yes we can create the Cesar Chavez National Monument that will be a source of pride for all Americans who care about social justice. And by showing how one Latino farm worker changed America, yes we can encourage millions of other Latinos and farm workers to fulfill their hopes and aspirations, especially the hundreds of students who joined President Obama at La Paz on October 8.
Because he has worked so hard to make Si Se Puede! into a reality for farm workers and millions of other Latinos and people from every walk of life, we must re-elect President Barack Obama on November 6.
Arturo S. Rodriguez succeeded Cesar Chavez as president of the United Farm Workers of America. He lives in Keene, Calif.