President Biden chooses a constant Oval Office companion with Kern connections: Bronze bust of Cesar Chavez

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Paul Chavez immediately recognized the face on the TV screen right behind that of newly inaugurated President Joe Biden. A face he knew well.

His father, Cesar Chavez, champion of the U.S farm labor movement, in 3-D on a table in the Oval Office, directly behind the Resolute Desk. A happy surprise.

Of course Paul Chavez knew Biden’s team had asked weeks ago to display this bronze bust of his father in the Oval Office for the next four years — with a second four-year option — he just didn’t know it would be looking over the president’s shoulder.

If Paul Chavez ever had the slightest doubt about the measure of Biden’s commitment to labor, it evaporated at the sight of that bronze bust surrounded by portraits of the president and his family. It’s more than just a personal honor for Chavez and his family

“For us it really sounds like a new dawn, a new time where maybe the country can pull together and maybe our community can stop being demonized and be recognized for the contributions they make on a daily basis,” Chavez said. “To put food on our tables and to make sure our beds are made and the lawns are cut and well tended. So we were personally excited but we were hopeful for what it represents for things to come.”

The 22-inch-tall bronze bust of the civil rights and farm labor leader — designed by Hanford artist Paul A. Suarez — had been on display at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument’s Visitor Center in Keene, where Chavez lived and worked for 25 years before his death in 1993.

It was there behind Biden as the president on Wednesday signed directives reversing the Trump Administration’s attempt to exclude noncitizens from being counted in the census, asking the Department of Homeland Security to continue the DACA program, which protects so-called “Dreamers” from deportation; proposing an eight-year path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including farmworkers; and halting construction of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta of Bakersfield co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962.

“This is all very powerful,” Huerta said. ” … It’s a very strong message to everybody, I believe. And (it) also (says) that the president is saying, ‘I am a servant leader. I am the leader of this great nation but also I am your servant.'”

The bust of Cesar Chavez at the White House gives Kern County bronze representation in two branches of U.S government. Sculptor Ben Victor, a Bakersfield native, has three sculptures in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol building, more than any living sculptor.

What might Cesar Chavez whisper to the new president from his perch behind the Resolute Desk when the occasion calls for it?

“To remember those that feed us,” Huerta said. “Those that put the food on the table. Remember the working people who are really the ones running the country.”

Biden’s desire to borrow the bronze bust in the first place suggests the labor leader has, in a meaningful way, touched the president.

“I think,” Huerta said of Biden, “he has it in his heart already.”

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