First lady Jill Biden honored the legacy of civil rights icon Cesar Chavez during a visit Wednesday to the original home of the United Farm Workers, declaring she and her husband remain inspired by the late union leader's service and sacrifices on behalf of people "who were mostly unseen."
Biden drew parallels between Chavez's work on behalf of farmworkers and President Joe Biden's efforts to build a humane, just immigration policy. The first lady went on to compare Chavez's message of solidarity to the need for concerted action in the fight against COVID-19.
"Even in our darkest times we can and we must find hope through each other," she told a gathering of a few hundred UFW supporters, politicians and local dignitaries.
She was joined at the UFW's historic Forty Acres property by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who commended the Biden administration for bringing a "different framework of history" that is notably different from the near-daily conflicts between California leadership and that of the previous White House.
Newsom, like the first lady, took the opportunity on what would have been Chavez's 94th birthday to pay tribute to the UFW's struggle in the 1960s. He noted the UFW's co-founder was never elected to public office but, like fellow civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., nevertheless exercised key leadership.
"You don't have to be something to do something," Newsom said.
Biden's visit took her from Meadows Field Airport, where her jet touched down at 1:16 p.m., straight to Forty Acres, where she arrived at about 2:30 p.m.
After introductions and a series of brief speeches, the first lady toured an on-site farmworker vaccination operation run by Kern Medical. She met with a small group of women farmworkers then left the property at about 4:45 p.m. and returned to the airport before heading back to Washington, D.C.
The event did not focus exclusively on Chavez's work on behalf of farmworkers but it never veered far from it.
Biden mentioned her and the president's support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 pending before the U.S. Senate after passing the House earlier in March.
"This is a great first step and together we are going to get this done," she said, adding, "Si se puede!" which may be translated from Spanish as "Yes we can!"
The bipartisan bill would provide a pathway to citizenship for farmworkers while increasing the pool of farmworkers available to growers who continue to have a hard time finding qualified labor. It is supported by hundreds of agricultural organizations, including the California Farm Bureau, but appears to face an uphill battle in the Senate.
Delano farmworker Bernardo Zapata showed up at Forty Acres shortly after Biden's speech, which he had hoped to attend but ended up catching parts of during a livestream on the internet. The 48-year-old said his other purpose for showing up was to get his first COVID-19 vaccination shot.
Zapata said Biden's speech was good and that he views the Biden administration, from a farmworker perspective, as an improvement over the Donald Trump presidency. He said he's hopeful for his own sake that the farmworker immigration becomes law.
"I hope to God it does," he said.
The first lady and Newsom paid tribute to UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta, who was in attendance but did not give a speech.
Newsom called Huerta "an actual living legend," and Biden called her a courageous leader.
"You call on all of us to keep working for change," she said.
Biden said the president decided to enter politics after witnessing the work of people like Chavez.
"In fact, when the president, Joe, was making selections for the Oval Office," she said, "he asked for a bust of Cesar to be placed next to his desk as a reminder of the man and his work."
She also thanked Newsom, the target of a statewide recall effort, for his work battling climate change and COVID-19. "Thank you for all that you do," she said.
The first lady was introduced by a UFW board member, Connie Perez-Andreesen, who said Biden's support of the farmworker immigration and labor unions is important in relation to Chavez's belief that farmworkers should be able to vote and organize "just like everyone else."
She closed by expressing hope that the first lady and her husband succeed in leading a national effort to build back America better.
"Today," she said, "we are one union."