Cal Humanities

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

"The understanding of a culture comes from hearing the language, tasting the food, seeing personal interactions, experiencing the traditions, and so much more when it is in context."

— Elizabeth Laval & Candice Pendergrass, Sikh Youth Public History Project

California Humanities in the Central Valley: Tracing the Footsteps of Cesar Chavez

Last month, California Humanities staff came together in the Central Valley for an in-person gathering with the Board of Directors, where we took a journey through the region’s labor, civil rights, and cultural history. First embarking on our Strategic Framework planning and exploring Bakersfield’s rich Basque heritage, our visit culminated at the National Chavez Center in Keene, CA, home to the César E. Chávez National Monument. Dedicated to the legacy of Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement, it was an appropriate venue for our meeting as California Humanities’ continues to consider how equity will be central to its strategic framework and will guide its organizational activities both externally through our grantmaking and programs, and internally through the board, staff, and organizational infrastructure. Below are some highlights from our trip!

On January 24, California Humanities’ executive committee of the board and staff met at the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersfield for an in-depth strategic framework planning and equity training session outlined by President and CEO Rick Noguchi with Jose Montano of the Aspire Group and Program Officer Lucena Lau Valle, who has been leading the equity working group at California Humanities.

Woman seated wearing a purple blouse watches a woman  wearing a red cardigan standing in front of the room
Camila Chavez, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, welcomes the group to Bakersfield and speaks about the importance of the foundation’s work cultivating volunteer organizations that actively pursue social justice.

The organization will create a new strategic framework centered on equity as a commitment to dismantling structural and systemic barriers, and this session was the first of several that will happen this year leading up to its completion in the fall of 2024.

One woman and two men sit behind a table, with a poster with title "Weaving" on the wall behind them.
California Humanities board members from left to right: Neha Balram (Board Secretary), Oliver Rosales (outgoing Board Chair), Daryle Williams (Chair of the Governance Committee).
A woman wearing a black cardigan and black pants and a blue mask speaks to a room of equity session participants.
Session participants received a surprise visit from Dolores Huerta, the Foundation’s namesake and renowned American labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the United Farm Workers union alongside Cesar Chavez.
"Basque Heritage" mural on the wall in a parking lot.
A mural commemorating Bakersfield’s Basque heritage in the parking lot at Wool Growers Restaurant (620 E 19th Street, Bakersfield).

Now a major center of agriculture, Bakersfield has long been home to generations Basque Americans, with families who immigrated to the area as sheepherders starting in the 1880s and 1890s. Basque hotels and boarding houses arose to greet and host the new immigrants, and alongside them grew a rich food culture. Many of the city’s oldest and most historic restaurants are Basque, including Pyrenees Café, Benji’s French Basque Restaurant, Chalet Basque Restaurant, and Wool Growers Restaurant. The oldest, the Noriega Hotel, opened in 1893 in Kern City and closed in 2020 due to challenges associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Neon sign reading Wool Growers Restaurant with image of long horn sheep
The neon sign outside of Wool Growers Restaurant.

California Humanities staff and board visited the historic Wool Growers for a Bakersfield humanities-centered experience. Founded in 1954, the restaurant welcomes patrons with its distinctive neon sign. Inside, a warm interior is decorated with floral wallpaper, paintings of Basque country, and dozens of photographs documenting the past century of local Basque migration. Steven Gamboa, PhD, Interim Associate Dean, School of Arts & Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at CSU Bakersfield, joined us to share the region’s Basque history and cuisine over some of the restaurant’s California-Basque house favorites, including tomato salad, garlic cottage cheese, fried chicken, and pickled tongue.

Man wearing white button shirt, standing at a long table of people in a restaurant
Steven Gamboa (standing) talks to board and staff about Basque migration to the Bakersfield area, and local Basque institutions like Wool Growers that continue under multi-generational ownership.
framed historic framed photos on a wall
Photos of prominent Basque families and Basque activities in Bakersfield line the walls of the restaurant.
Man wearing portable speaker sits at front of a large tour bus and looks back at seated passengers while speaking
Oliver Rosales speaks about farmworker history in Bakersfield and Kern County on the road to Keene, January 25, 2024.

On January 25, board and staff spent the day at the César E. Chávez National Monument, located on the sprawling estate known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace), or La Paz. Created as a national monument in 2012, this was the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America and the home of Cesar Chavez in his later years (1971 to 1993). The site of a former rock quarry and tuberculosis sanatorium, it was here that Chavez and other leaders of the UFW orchestrated unprecedented successes for hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, including passage of the first US law that recognized farmworkers’ collective bargaining rights. La Paz soon became a tangible symbol of the UFW’s growth and a place where thousands of workers came to learn how to operate their union, affect social change, and plan their strategies. Today, the 7,000 square foot National Monument includes a visitors’ center featuring Chavez’s office and library, a courtyard, and memorial gardens.

Cesar Chavez National Monument welcome sign with National Park Service logo
Entrance to the National Monument in Keene, CA.

Andres Chavez, Executive Director of the Cesar Chavez Foundationgave board and staff a special tour of the Monument. Chavez leads the arm of the Chavez Foundation that educates and promotes his grandfather’s legacy across the nation. This includes overseeing the National Chavez Center property at La Paz, a portion of which is now the César E. Chávez National Monument.

Man wearing white textured sweater and grey slacks stands in front of a large photo mural of Cesar Chavez
Inside the National Monument’s exhibit space, Andres Chavez gives an overview of the Great Delano Grape Strike of 1965.
A woman stands in front of a preserved office  behind glass
California Humanities staff member Beth Segura stands in front of Cesar Chavez’s carefully preserved library and office, among the interpretive exhibits and photographs inside the National Monument’s main building.
Four men stand outside in a memorial garden
Andres Chavez in the National Monument’s Memorial Garden, with California Humanities board member Thomas K. Arnold, President and CEO Rick Noguchi, and board chair Oliver Rosales.
Woman wearing National Park Service uniform poses for a photo with a man wearing white dress shirt and dark blue suit jacket and man wearing beige cable knit sweater
Martha Crusius of the National Park Service with Rick Noguchi and Andres Chavez. Photo credit: Thomas K. Arnold.
Man wearing suit in a video message, projected on a screen in a conference room
A special video welcome from Attorney General Rob Bonta, who spoke about the significance of the National Chavez Center where he grew up and learned about activism from an early age, and acknowledged the important work of California Humanities.

Our board meeting was bittersweet, as it marked the last for our Board Chair, Oliver Rosales, who has served on California Humanities’ Board of Directors since 2015. Based at Bakersfield College and a longtime practitioner of public humanities projects spotlighting the region’s labor history, our convening at La Paz was a fitting one to mark Oliver’s send-off.

Man wearing black shirt observes a painting gifted to him inside a well lit conference room
Presenting Oliver with “Pick Up the Shovel,” an original artwork print by Francisco Castillo (aka Franky Castle) honoring the life and legacy of Cesar Chavez.
Woman wearing dark blue patterned blouse, man wearing white dress shirt and blue suit jacket and pants, man wearing black polo shirt and jeans, pose for a photo next to a framed artwork depicting a farmer holding a shovel.
New California Humanities’ Board Chair Rachel Hatch, Rick Noguchi, and Oliver Rosales stand with “Pick Up the Shovel” artwork. Photo credit: Thomas K. Arnold.

This meeting was an opportunity for Oliver to ceremoniously pass the torch to Rachel Hatch, who officially stepped into the role of Board Chair after serving as Vice Chair. Rachel is the Chief Operating Officer at Institute for the Future, whose mission is to help organizations, communities, and leaders become future-ready (read more about Rachel in our 3 Questions blog).

Woman stands and reads from a piece of paper in front of seated board and staff.
Rachel Hatch thanks Oliver for his service as a board member and Chair.
Fountain with bas relief of marching people, with long cyprus trees rising above.
The peaceful Memorial Garden is a “place for celebration” at La Paz, according to Andres Chavez. Both Cesar Chavez and his wife Helen are buried here.

As we look ahead to Cesar Chavez Day on March 31, we are grateful to take lessons from these inspiring and thought-provoking spaces with us in our humanities work moving forward.

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