President Barack Obama and I met up yesterday in Keene, a pueblito of a town in Kern County, CA. Obama was there to dedicate a monument to César Chávez and I was there to witness. See — that’s me with the President in the background!
After a groggy three-hour drive started at the crack of dawn, I stood in what seemed like a mile-long line along with several thousands of other UFW supporters and Obama backers in the dusty, windy Tehachapi morning.
We came to witness the President’s dedication of the 398th Federal National Monument, known as La Paz, and now the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, built on the site of an old tuberculosis hospital in the Tehachapi Mountains. UFW co-founder and labor icon Chavez is buried on the grounds of his longtime HQ. It is idyllic, and a little dusty.
Dancers danced. Mariachis played. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis spoke, also Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Paul Chavez, son of Cesar. I took my family to make sure our three kids got to witness history and see the first African-American president in the flesh. Also historical!
We scarfed free pan dulce and drank water while we waited for the main event. We were standing in the heat on a slight dirt hill about 150 yards from the podium. Fortunately for us we were snatched up by a UFW organizer who recognized me and we were ushered to the very front, and my kids were placed on the edge of the speaking area. “Sometimes he comes by and shakes hands, this is a good spot.” said our host.
I joked with the Park Rangers there that I would put my adorable kids up as “bait” so the President would surely come by and shake their hands first, and then we’d swoop in.
After several speeches, and endless playing of taped Souza marches, Hail To The Chief finally played on the Presidential iPod, and the President came out to wild crowd approval. He gave a speech praising Chavez and the countless farm workers and organizers who made workers’ rights their life’s work. He also stumbled on the word used to describe a young Cesar Chavez, “caprichudo” (spoiled and stubborn). I think he said “caprichorro” or something hilarious like that. It didn’t matter, we giggled and kept listening.
This is the actual monument. OK. It’s a photo of a sign. The MONUMENT’s sign
I videotaped parts of his speech, and took photos. I videotaped so much my iPhone froze up and choked at the moment Obama came off the stage towards us. He headed right for my eight- year-old girl. The trap had worked. There he was, right in front of us! He spoke to my daughter and I would have loved to have told him numerous things, like:
- ‘Sup, Barack?
- Will you ease up on the deportations already?
- Can I send you a copy of my Viva Obama poster I did in 2008?
- Please boast about your accomplishments in a more boastful manner
- Can you get drone pilots with better aim? Afghan and Pakistani kids are just as adorable as mine.
- I’d like to get drunk with Joe Biden
- I won’t judge if you take an oxygen tank to the next debate and
- Thanks for killing Bin Laden, I didn’t like that guy
The moment ended in an instant, but not before we all got to greet the first African-American president personally. I don’t have a photo of the moment we all got to shake hands and meet the President, but I won’t ever forget it. We also got a ticket for the event autographed by the President.
Exhausted after a long day of waiting in lines and fighting off the sun (my cranium has so much acreage it is susceptible to sunstroke) we drove home after stopping at the Mojave Denny’s and having a belated breakfast. In the booth next to us we met Frank Fabela, proud Korean War vet and brother of Helen Chavez, Cesar Chavez’s widow. The history just wouldn’t quit.
And finally at home, we assigned homework to our kids: write about meeting the President, so that you don’t forget, and also to have proof of the authenticity of the autographed ticket.
My reluctant son was told, “You never know, your no-good moocher grandkids may need to sell this on Pawn Stars 2150, and show proof that they have an autograph from our only African-American President…”
It was a pretty good day in history.