October 9, 2012: Today, President Obama dedicated the César Chávez National Monument in Keene, California. Located at Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (La Paz), the new national monument becomes the 398th unit of our National Park System and will include Chávez’ home, the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and the Memorial Garden where Chávez is buried. President Obama’s establishment of the César Estrada Chávez National Monument is especially meaningful as we strive to tell a more diverse, rich and complete history of our nation as represented by the decree of the vote– one that more fully recognizes the many contributions of women and minorities throughout our history.
A prayer written by César Chávez :
“Show me the suffering of the most miserable so I will know my people’s plight. Free me to pray for others for you are present in every person. Help me take responsibility for my own life so that I can be free at last. Grant me courage to serve others for in service there is true life.
Give me honesty and patience so that the spirit will be alive among us. Let the spirit flourish and grow so that we will never tire of the struggle. Let us remember those who have died for justice for they have given us life.
Help us love even those who hate us so we can change the world.”
AS TOLD TO THE BOULEVARDIERS ~ MY STORY:
My family emigrated from Guatemala to the United States when I was 4 years old. This September, I celebrated my 35th birthday and my 31st year in the United States. When I was born, my mother decided to come to the United States.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Guatemala was at the height of a civil war, which was fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups, primarily supported by the Mayan indigenous people. The government forces of Guatemala have been condemned for widespread human rights violations and for committing genocide against the Mayan people of Guatemala. Any suspicion of involvement with the rebel groups was met with severe punishment. Violence and kidnappings were rampant against the resisting civilian population, as was the history throughout the Americas, Chile, Argentina, etc.
My mom was a nurse and my dad was an internist and surgeon. They often cared for wounded soldiers, police officers… and yes, rebel fighters. They had taken an oath to save lives; and did not take sides when it came to doing their jobs. In early 1981, my parents received a series of threatening phone calls and letters telling them to stop helping rebel fighters or they and their children would be harmed. My parents, fearing for the safety of their four children, decided to leave the country.
We arrived in Los Angeles in September 1981. We were fortunate that my uncle on my mom’s side was already in Los Angeles. He let us stay at his house while my parents looked for work. Unfortunately, my mom and dad could not practice medicine because my Dad did not have a medical license to practice in the United States, and my Mom was not a registered nurse in California. Jobless and non-English speaking, they were uncertain and terrified; but quickly began to rebuild their lives. My mom got a job cleaning houses while my dad stayed home with my three brothers and me.
While cleaning a home, my mom met a fellow cleaning woman who asked about my mom’s background. My mom told her co-worker she had been a nurse, and my dad a physician back in Guatemala. Mom told her co-worker that she didn’t know how they were going to get back into their professions; and that they desperately missed working in the medical field. My mother’s co-worker informed her that César Chávez was always on the lookout for skilled, educated people to join his organization.
My parents were told by this organizer, that César Chávez was interested in opening a clinic for the farm workers who worked in the grape fields in Delano, California, Mom and Dad were asked to move to move there to establish a clinic. While they did not have licenses to practice medicine, they both had a background in hospital administration. Cesar Chavez hired them as administrators; and offered to pay for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, my Mom’s nursing certification test and my dad’s medical license books and medical board test.
About two years later, my parents succeeded in passing their tests; and were on their way to working again in the medical field. They continued to work at the clinic, this time as a physician and nurse, until it closed down in 1986.
Years later that my Mom confessed to me she knew she wanted to immigrate to the United States upon my birth. She wanted me in particular, as her only daughter, to have more opportunities and a better quality of life.
This Thanksgiving, as in every day, I am thankful to have such brave, hard-working parents. I am also thankful for the sacrifices they made and for the life they have given me in the United States.