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'Dream' of Cesar Chavez continues with vaccination clinic at The Forty Acres

CALIF FARMING STRIKE REMEMBERED

Cesar Chavez applauds as John Giumarra Jr. holds a copy of the Union Label during a meeting of the United Farm Workers in Delano in 1970.

Paul Chavez can remember clearing the rocks from a barren patch of land just outside Delano in 1966. His father, Cesar Chavez had promised Paul and his siblings they could fly kites, but first they had to work.

The land he helped clear soon became the headquarters of the United Farm Workers union, a coalition of Filipino and Latino farmworkers fighting the California table grape growers at the time for better working conditions. Now known as The Forty Acres, the site has been the location of some of the most significant events in the history of California labor.

From Cesar Chavez’s first fast — which gained national attention and drew in thousands of supporters, including Sen. Robert Kennedy — to the signing of a collective bargaining agreement with table grape growers, the site has radically altered the lives of thousands of farmworkers.

Now it will save their lives.

Beginning Saturday and extending over six weekends in March and April, The Forty Acres will host a mobile clinic with the capacity of vaccinating 500 to 600 farmworkers per day. Operating during non-standard business hours, and in a convenient location, the event is meant to erase the barriers some farmworkers may experience when trying to get vaccinated.

“This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Kern County Latino COVID-19 Task Force Co-Founder Jay Tamsi. “This is what we’ve been waiting for, bringing the Latino community together as brothers and sisters that this vaccine is really going to change lives. Once folks take the vaccine, it’s going to be emotional because they haven’t seen their grandkids in a long time. They work really hard. They are essential workers and we have a right to prioritize their work here in Kern County.”

Although the UFW eventually relocated its headquarters, The Forty Acres has continued to serve its membership. Now designated as a National Historic Landmark, the site doesn’t see as much action as it used to. However, the new vaccine effort shows it can still be a vital part of the farmworker community.

“This dream that my dad had, that The Forty Acres could be a place that could offer people critically needed services, and at the same place to celebrate life, that it’s being utilized now to help vaccinate farmworkers and other people in need, it’s really fitting with that vision that they had in 1966 when they established their home,” said Paul Chavez, who is now the president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. “It carries on in that tradition in the health care and the services they were providing in the mid-’60s.”

The clinics are being conducted by a partnership between the UFW, UFW Foundation, the Latino COVID-19 Task Force, Kern County, Kern Medical and the Cesar Chavez Foundation. The vaccines have proven popular among farmworkers. Appointments for Saturday and half of Sunday have already filled up and organizers expect a big turnout.

“For the most part, farmworkers want it,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “In many cases, farmworkers live in households where you have two or three families living there… So they do understand the importance of getting the vaccine for them and for their family and community.”

To make an appointment, call the UFW Foundation at 661-501-4280 or Project Abuelita, which is designed to aid elderly individuals through the appointment process, at 661-525-5900.

All farmworkers 18 years or older are eligible for the vaccine.

This weekend, the clinic will be available from 1 to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The hours will be similar over the next two weekends. Another vaccine event is planned on Cesar Chavez’s birthday, from 4 to 7 p.m., March 31.

“We all want to make sure that The Forty Acres, while it has its place in history and it’s important to share that history, we want to make sure that it’s got an ongoing relevance,” Paul Chavez said. “The fact that this vaccination program has been put together with the help of Kern County and Delano is heartwarming, because it ensures that that work that my dad and the founders set up in 1966 continues to be valid in today’s world.”

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.