Fifty years ago this Saturday, on his 35th birthday, Cesar Chavez made the decision to dedicate his life to organizing America's farmworkers when he quit his job and moved his family to Delano. Today he is recognized as one of the country's most important Latino leaders and founder of what is now the United Farm Workers of America.
Chavez recognized the injustices suffered by those working to provide food to so many Americans and decided to take action. With other important figures, including Dolores Huerta, he spent the rest of his life peacefully promoting rights for farmworkers, which led to improved working conditions and better lives for thousands of Latinos and other minority groups throughout the United States. To preserve his legacy, we now have an opportunity to recognize his achievements by establishing a national park site.
Last fall, the National Park Service released a draft special resource study that found five locations in California and Arizona to be of national significance, including Forty Acres, in Delano, which was once headquarters for the United Farm Workers; and La Paz, near Keene, where Chavez worked and lived for more than 30 years and is now the current home of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
The study supported Park Service management of a Chavez site, and that the addition of a site dedicated to Chavez is both feasible and suitable.
"For my father, La Paz was a personal refuge from bitter struggles in agricultural valleys and big cities, a spiritual harbor where he recharged batteries, drew fresh inspiration and prepared for the battles ahead," says Paul F. Chavez, Cesar Chavez's middle son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. "It was a place where many dedicated people spent years of their lives working with Cesar Chavez for social justice, inspiring generations of Americans from all walks of life who never worked on a farm to social and political activism."
As we approach the centennial celebration of the National Park Service in 2016, our national parks should embrace the richness and diversity of American history and culture.
Currently, none of our 397 national parks honor the legacy of an individual contemporary Latino. Through the leadership of our elected officials, introducing legislation to establish a Cesar Chavez national park site will not only preserve his legacy, but also better diversify our National Park System to more completely represent the makeup of our country.
Emily Schrepf is the Central Valley program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.