César Chávez Day marks start of public engagement period
WASHINGTON — In honor of César Chávez Day, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced an important step in the exploration of how the National Park Service can honor and commemorate the late civil rights leader.
Secretary Salazar encouraged the public to comment on sites significant to César Chávez and the farm movement in the western United States for potential preservation, interpretation and possible inclusion in the National Park System. The comments will be considered as part of a congressionally mandated special resource study.
“César Chávez is a true national hero whose leadership and sacrifice improved millions of lives and made our nation stronger and more just. We must honor and remember his life and legacy, so that our children and grandchildren will know his story,” Secretary Salazar said. “The Park Service is reviewing the many sites that are important to Chávez's life and his great contributions to improving the quality of life for farm workers. We want to hear from the American people about which sites they believe are most appropriate for preservation and interpretation.”
Preserving sites that celebrate and interpret Chávez's life and the farm worker movement in the West is part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to create a new conservation ethic for the 21st Century and to reconnect Americans to the natural world and their cultural and historic heritage.
In February, Salazar joined United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez and Paul Chávez, César Chávez's son and president of the César Chávez Foundation, to officially dedicate “Forty Acres,” a site in Delano, CA, that was the focal point of the farm worker movement, as a National Historic Landmark.
Chávez is widely recognized as the most important U.S. Latino leader of the 20th century. During the 1960s, he led a movement of thousands of farm workers, their families and their supporters as they created the nation's first permanent agricultural labor union. César Chávez Day commemorates Chávez's birthday of March 31. Chávez would be 84 today.
As president of the United Farm Workers of America, Chávez achieved a series of unprecedented victories, including contracts that covered more than 100,000 farm workers, raised wages, funded health care and pension plans, mandates for the provision of drinking water and restroom facilities in the fields, regulation of the use of pesticides in the fields, and a new fund for community service projects. He also helped secure the passage of the first law in the United State that specifically recognized the rights of farm workers to organize and engage in collective bargaining.
Congress authorized the special resources study in legislation passed last year. Salazar will eventually send a report to Congress with a list of options and a recommendation for how Chávez and the farm worker movement should be commemorated.
“Our National Park System tells the story of America, and the life and accomplishments of César Chávez are an important part of that story,” Salazar said.
This is the first of two opportunities for the public to comment. The National Park Service will host public meeting throughout California and Arizona in April and May, and will publish a draft study report later this year that also will be open for public comment.