KEENE, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County has a rich Hispanic history, especially with its connection to César Chávez and the farmworkers movement. That’s why the César E. Chávez National Monument was established just outside of Bakersfield in the town of Keene.
The monument celebrates the life and history of César Chávez — and Superintendent Ruben Andrade, the man charged with looking over it, says he’s living his dream.
“It gives you goosebumps, to be able to make the foundation of a new park, to start telling the story with exhibits that allow people to make connections,” Andrade said. “Not just people who have a connection to the story itself but for all American’s that come through here to learn about another American story.”
A Dixon native, Andrade is the child of a farm labor family. It’s how his parents supported their family, it’s where he met his wife, and it’s what sparked his appreciation for farm labor activist César Chávez.
When Andrade was in high school, he said his father recognized the potential in him.
“He said ‘Mijo you’re pretty good with the books. You should go to college, except we can’t afford it. But the army will pay.”
Andrade joined the Army and used his GI Bill to go Sac State. While in school, he often thought back to his older brother Serapio, who worked in the National Parks Service in Sequoia National Park.
“Thinking back when I was that age that maybe one day I could have a job like Serapio’s.”
In 1998, Andrade began his own career working in the parks service. As he made his way up the ranks, his longtime mentor asked him if he had a dream.
“I said yea, I want to be the first superintendent of a Cesar Chavez National Park,” Andrade said. “Bill’s jaw dropped and he said, 'Ruben that’s not even on the NPS radar.' I said I know but you asked for a dream.”
It took 14 years, but in 2012, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Proclamation creating the César E. Chávez National Monument commemorating Chávez and the struggles and accomplishments of the farmworker movement. A year after, Andrade was named superintendent.
“I’m living the dream.”
Right now, the monument features the memorial garden and inside the Visitor's Center is a photo exhibition highlighting César Chávez and the farmworkers movement, but Andrade says he’s working on adding more exhibits for visitors.