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Chavez memorial rising in Berkeley park

By Jamie Luck, Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday May 18, 2002

Berkeley is oft maligned by much of the nation for being divisive and living in a sort of time warp, but no more. A new monument is being developed in Cesar Chavez Park that will provide Berkeleyans not only with a sense of time but also of universal direction -- a solar calendar. 

The interim stage of the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar is being finished up this week, as members of the East Bay Conservation Corps cleared a circular hilltop area and laid out stones to mark the seasonal position of the sun. The memorial not only honors Chavez, but is also intended as an educational and meditation center for Berkeley students and citizens. 

“We’re building Berkeley’s version of Stonehedge,” said Santiago Casal, the Chavez Memorial Calendar Project director. “It is an appropriate way to honor Chavez, not only because of his obvious ties with agriculture, but also because of his universal and meditative nature.”  

Chavez, a non-violent activist who spent his early life as a migrant laborer, found and led the only successful farm laborer’s union in U.S. history--the United Farm Workers of America. Casal says that agriculture is so intrinsically tied to the seasons, that a solar calendar was a fitting tribute to him. 

Visitors to the monument will be able to read and experience the progress of the seasons by standing in the center and tracking the sun, either at twilight or by reading the sun’s shadow via a center pole. “This gives people a universal perspective, which fits Berkeley. It also honors Chavez. He used to walk among the hills outside Yuma and consult with nature--he was a very meditative man.” 

The calendar is more than a memorial, it is also meant to serve as a field classroom and place of moral direction. “The whole focus is to engage students through service to honor Chavez,” Casal said. “Chavez was a man who dedicated his life to service, and this makes him an important role model to students.”  

The calendar’s cardinal points will each represent a virtue exemplified by Chavez. Though final decisions have not been made, they will likely represent courage, determination, hope, and tolerance. 

Field classes will be organized for students to come out and learn not only about Chavez, Latino heritage and attributed principles -- but also get the chance to learn about astronomy in an interactive way as they learn the workings of the calendar. The calendar consists of both outer and inner perimeters. The outer ring contains eight stones: two indicate true north and south, while the eastern and western horizon contain three apiece. The east/west horizon stones serve as a framework to read the seasons--the sun will rise and fall along the southernmost stones during winter solstice, and the northernmost at summer solstice. The middle of the three stones indicates the spring and fall equinoxes. 

The interim calendar, which is being finished this week, is a temporary structure. The final version of the Cesar Chavez Memorial Solar Calendar will work in the same way, only the stones will be replaced by earthen berms, with slotted alignments for the seasons. Both the berms, indicator stones, and the gnomic center will incorporate artwork of cultural and astronomical significance, according to Casal. He also says the final version is a few years away, depending on when an estimated $500,000 - $750,000 in funds is raised. 

In the meantime, people will be able to enjoy the primitive version of the calendar, thanks to the efforts of the Chavez Circle of Service -- the group responsible for making the project happen -- and the labor of the EBCC. 

Even the choice of the EBCC to work on the project reflects the “honor through service” that Casal speaks of. EBCC workers are young adults seeking to gain a high school diploma or equivalency while gaining work experience through paid service to the community. “The EBCC is a charter school education and training program,” said supervisor Bill Ritchie. “The program is a nice alternative for kids to work outdoors while getting their diplomas, and contributing to this memorial is especially significant.” 

A special commemoration ceremony for the interim calendar will be held on the summer solstice, June 21st, at sunset. It is located at the northwestern corner of Cesar Chavez Park in the Berkeley Marina. Everybody is welcome. 


Contact reporter Jamie Luck at