The U.S. Secretary of the Interior on Thursday sent a report to Congress recommending that it create a National Historical Park to commemorate the life and work of Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement.
Three Kern County sites would be included in the park if Congress chooses to adopt the report’s findings.
Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union with Chavez, said she was excited about the opportunity the park would offer to tell Chavez’s story.
Huerta said Thursday that the park would also stand as a monument to the dignity of farmworkers and the fight to bring justice to the fields.
From the Dust Bowl immigrants, to the stories of striking Latino and Filipino farm workers, through the struggles of immigrants of today, Huerta said, creation of the park “honors the people who work with their hands, who feed the nation.”
Thursday’s recommendation — the result of more than two years of study — calls for a park that would initially incorporate five key locations in Chavez’s life spread across two states.
The sites in Kern County are:
• Filipino Community Hall in Delano — The headquarters of the 1965 grape strike by unions representing Latino and Filipino farm workers.
• The Forty Acres — the UFW’s first home in Delano, established in 1966.
• Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz — The complex in Keene, between Bakersfield and Tehachapi, which later became the headquarters of the UFW. It is the site where Chavez lived until his death in 1993 and where he is buried.
The two other sites being considered are McDonnell Hall in San Jose and the Santa Rita Center in Phoenix, Ariz.
McDonnell Hall is where Chavez and Huerta got their early training as community organizers through the Community Service Organization.
The Santa Rita Center is where Chavez held a 24-day hunger strike in 1972 that helped focus national attention to the farmworker movement and the plight of farmworkers in Arizona.
The complicated challenge of creating a national historical trail out of hundreds of privately owned sites along the route of farmworkers’ 1966 march from Delano to Sacramento would be explored further under the recommended plan.
The park sites — which with the exception of three acres at La Paz — are owned by private groups and would be managed by the National Park Service in cooperation with those owners, said Martha Crusius, the Park Service project manager whose team developed the report released Thursday.
The challenge for the researchers and planners who developed the report, Crusius said, was the sheer size and scope of Chavez’s impact on communities across California, through Arizona and beyond.
They started with a long list of sites to study and found more along the way.
There was tremendous community pride in the communities that had felt Chavez’s impact, Crusius said.
Ultimately the sites that were picked were prime examples of the full scope of Chavez’s story.
“We are looking at which sites best tell that broader story,” she said. “What is the best place to talk about the early days? What is the best place to talk about the fasts and the march?”
Marc Grossman, spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation, said the group endorses the plan put forward by Crusius and her team.
“It’s fitting because Cesar’s labors reached into so many places and touched so many people,” he said.
If Congress authorizes the creation of the national park, the report states, the National Park Service would eventually spend between $1 million and $3 million a year in staffing, education and outreach costs to operate it.
But development of the park would be coordinated with the private owners and is expected to ramp up gradually over years as money becomes available and historical education programs are developed.
The private owners of the sites would play a big part in developing the park.
For example, Grossman said, the Chavez Foundation is in the midst of developing its own master plan for The Forty Acres site that would make it a better, more welcoming resource for the public.
“We would like The Forty Acres to be as visitor-friendly as La Paz,” he said.
To the people of Delano, Chavez’s story lives in homes, in buildings and on street corners all across the community.
It was the community where Latino and Filipino farmworkers who had been pitted against each other by growers chose to come together and fight side-by-side in 1965.
On the streets of the city, Huerta said, 70 strikers waited out a police blockade before beginning the 1966 march to Sacramento that trailed through the Central Valley’s farm towns and ended with thousands of marchers on the streets of Sacramento.
Delano City Council member Grace Vallejo said that as the daughter of a farm worker who herself worked in the fields, the park would be critical to help the people who come to town searching for the history of the farm worker movement connect with it.
“It would help the economy. It would bring people to learn what the movement was about,” she said.
Vallejo hopes that Congress will pick up the report and move it forward.
“I would hope it will go smoothly,” she said, “recognizing how this gave people hope and justice.”