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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks for Secretary Hilda L. Solis
Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Dedication
Keene, California
Monday, October 8, 2012

Hello my friends.

What an honor it is to be here in La Paz with our President to memorialize a man who has meant so much to so many of us.

In the 236-year history of our great Republic, few Americans have done more than Cesar Chavez to:

  • create positive and impactful change…
  • foster peace...
  • inspire hope...
  • and work for justice.

Cesar Chavez taught humble people of the land to fight without ever clenching a fist.

He showed the powerless that they had the inner strength to move mountains.

He led a nonviolent revolution that bettered our nation.

And he improved the lives of millions who worked under the scorching sun — bringing in the harvest to nourish their neighbors.

You didn't have to know Cesar Chavez to be inspired by him. Or to love him.

Like so many of you, he touched my heart, and my life, in a very unique way...

In 1993, I had just been elected to the California Assembly.

I heard of his death at my very first community meeting with local labor leaders.

We were gathered in a local union hall when we heard the news.

Someone came into the meeting and told us Cesar Chavez had just died.

Silence fell upon the hall. We were stunned.

And the entire group did the only thing we could do at that moment. We prayed.

It was a strange feeling.

The very beginning of my career with labor started on the last day of a great labor leader's life.

But like so many of you, I felt the need... the passion... to somehow do something to carry his legacy and his work on.

After all, it was Cesar and his fearless partner, Dolores Huerta, who taught us about the power of unity...

The power of democracy...

And the power of hope.

It was Cesar who made people feel pride in themselves, and who reminded our nation that work was more than just a source of income.

Work is also a source of dignity.

During his 66 years on earth, Cesar fought for our families — and he fought to preserve our natural environment and its special connection to our health and our lives.

Today, this appreciation is deeply rooted in our culture.

Cesar was really one of the first environmentalists.

It's because of him that we care so deeply about protecting green space.

It is because of him that the use of pesticides are restricted in the fields while farm workers pick crops.

It's because of him that we fight for environmental justice, so families living in disadvantaged communities can breathe in clean air and drink safe water.

We learned from him.

He practically invented the tools and techniques of social justice when he organized the national boycott against table grapes.

He involved EVERYONE... including children, who removed grapes from their fruit cocktail in school cafeterias.

And he got everyone's attention, from U.S. Presidents to leaders around the world. He brought the plight of farm workers in America to anyone who would listen... and to those who wouldn't. Eventually, he knew they would.

And, in some ways, it's because of him that President Obama gave me the honor of a lifetime by naming me the first Latina to head a major cabinet agency in the federal government: the United States Department of Labor.

I wouldn't be standing before you today if not for what happened so many years ago, right here at Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz.

I'm blessed to have this opportunity.

Cesar and Dolores inspired me to enter public service.

When I first came to the United States Congress, one of the very first bills I wrote directed the National Park Service to study Cesar's life... so we could create this memorial.

Each year I was re-elected, I reintroduced the bill.

We passed it through the House, but it stalled in the Senate.

But we never gave up... because Cesar taught us never to give up. NEVER... EVER... GIVE UP.

In 2005, the people of Colorado sent a very good man to the United States Senate.

His name was Ken Salazar.

He picked up the mantle for this memorial in the other chamber.

And in 2008, we finally passed our bill.

Four years later, thanks to President Barack Obama, today our dream is realized.

Today, La Paz is enshrined as a place where civil rights for millions of Latino families were born.

And for generations to come, it will be a place of reflection, education and inspiration.

Cesar once said:

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.

You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.

You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.

You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.

We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”

Thank you, Cesar, for showing us the way to that future. And for helping to build it. You will live in our hearts forever.

And thank you, my friends, for being here.

Si, se puede.