The Orange County Fair Board moved forward Thursday with a plan to create the state’s biggest monument to migrant farm workers at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.

While some Republican appointees to the panel have questioned whether ranchers should also be recognized, the plan spurred by Gov. Jerry Brown’s most recent appointees currently centers solely on migrant workers.

Board member Nick Berardino, who heads the Orange County Employees Association, said the county’s ranching families have had plenty of recognition across the region, with their efforts “memorialized with streets, schools and cities to recognize their entrepreneurialism and the risks they took.”

Yet, Berardino said at Thursday’s Fair Board meeting, “we have not really had anything in this county that recognizes the farm workers.”

“This large group coming from Mexico, who came here and helped to build this county with their hands — their children have grown up in our country. … Their sons have become leaders like state Senator Lou Correa and state Assemblyman Jose Solorio.”

Berardino said that given the rancor of recent decades over undocumented workers, this is a chance to “beautify, a way to heal, to uplift.”

On Thursday, Berardino and Stan Tkaczyk (also a Voice of OC board member) were appointed to begin investigating a monument and designing a process for seeking proposals and a budget.

The Fair Board’s decision came on the same day that Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, which eventually became the United Farm Workers of America, was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Orange County’s wouldn’t be the first monument to farm workers in California.

Two years ago, Santa Paula in Ventura County commissioned a $250,000 life-sized sculpture featuring a lemon harvester holding a ladder and a woman bent over picking strawberries.

Already there seems to be a debate developing over where the monument should be placed at the fairground.

Berardino, who was appointed by Brown, a Democrat, favors a strong presence for the farm worker memorial at the entrance to the fairground on Fair Drive, just across from Costa Mesa City Hall.

Others like board member Dave Ellis, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, favor putting the memorial at the rear of the fairground, near the Centennial Farm educational exhibit. Ellis said such a placement would better fit with the farm’s educational intent.


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