Los Angeles Times

Op-Ed: No challenge too great or obstacle too high

César Chávez believed that power resides not in the few, but in the many. With shared sacrifice and effort, no challenge is too great and no obstacle too high.

He taught a generation of Latinos and other Americans that each of us had the skills and tools to succeed if we work together. Chávez knew that if we sat down and listened to each other, we would find common ground and change our world.

I learned and applied these lessons during my two terms as mayor of Burbank. I sat with families and small business owners seeking to improve their lives and our communities. These are also lessons I apply in my work today as chair of the board of directors for the American Lung Assn. in California.

For years, bipartisan leaders in Congress, the National Park Service, the Chávez family and local organizations worked collaboratively to identify a means of interpreting and protecting the Chávez legacy. The public participation in local meetings or “listening sessions” during this process was inspiring.

After listening to the community, President Obama created the César E. Chávez National Monument using his power under the Antiquities Act. The monument protects the property called “La Paz” on a hillside in rural Keene, Calif. It served as home to the Chávez family and the national headquarters of the United Farm Workers. It also includes the grave site of César Chávez.

The César Chávez National Monument is a quiet place, just as it was during César Chávez’s time. La Paz was a place where listening was valued and taught. It was a place where the Latino leaders of yesterday, today, and tomorrow were endowed with confidence in what can happen when we empower everyday people.

I am so pleased that this monument designation places the site among the great natural, cultural and historic sites of our nation. It will serve as a place to inspire our nation with the ideals of liberty and justice — not just for Latinos, but for all Americans.

Protecting this special place is recognition of the Chávez legacy. I truly hope the monument will become a place for learning, for reflecting, and for inspiring community leaders of tomorrow through its history and natural beauty. It will provide generations to come with a chance to breathe fresh air and marvel at the landscape while learning about critical moments in our shared heritage.

In California, our wealth of treasured outdoor space helps to drive our economy and job creation. By protecting our lands and cultural and natural treasures, we can all reap the benefits of increased tourism, outdoor recreation and the accompanying health benefits, clean energy and experiential education programs that access the natural beauty we’ve been given.

Looking ahead, we can pause to reflect on the monument designation by the president, but César Chávez taught us all that the work never stops.

Today, there are public lands close to my home in Burbank that would benefit from permanent protection as well. The majestic San Gabriel Mountains are a towering presence over the communities in the San Gabriel Valley and Los Angeles. They serve as a key part of our natural watershed and a place of significant cultural heritage. They also provide a close and welcome natural respite for our growing urban population.

As an avid hiker, I know the impact on my physical and spiritual health that comes from exploring the San Gabriel Mountains.

Secretary Salazar, Congress, the Park Service, and local community groups are currently working to identify opportunities to permanently protect these mountains and watershed. I encourage the president to join this effort.

After all, the designation of the César Chávez National Monument is not just about the past. It’s about the future of our state and our nation. Ideas emanating from a small group of people on a hill in Keene helped to inspire generations and change the world. Imagine what protecting a mountain range might do.

MARSHA RAMOS is chair of the board of directors for the American Lung Assn. in California. Ramos, a lifelong resident of Burbank, recently concluded eight years of service as an elected official. She is vice president of Geosystems Inc., which provides consulting services in geotechnical, environmental and land development.

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