National Park Service studies sites to memorialize Cesar Chavez

The National Park Service is launching a study of sites in California and other states associated with the life and work of labor leader Cesar E. Chavez for possible designation as a national historic landmark or addition to the national park system.

“The life of Cesar Chavez and people like him who have worked to make this country a better, more perfect union deserve to be recognized as part of the history of America,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday. “As stewards of the history of this great nation we look forward to working with the Chavez family, the United Farm Workers and communities throughout California and Arizona to determine how best to preserve this great legacy.”

The move came a day after President Obama, Salazar and Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis met in the Oval Office with five of Chavez’s children and two grandchildren and United Farm Workers officials on what would have been the labor leader’s 83rd birthday.

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, a Chavez granddaughter who works at the Interior Department, said the family sees the study as a “tremendous recognition of the significance of Cesar’s life and his work.”

Chavez, who died in 1993 at the age of 66, gained attention in the 1960s as the leader of the United Farm Workers union, staging a massive grape boycott that raised awareness of the plight of predominantly Latino farmworkers. His efforts also were credited with inspiring millions of other Latinos in their fight for more educational opportunities, better housing and more political power.

“Cesar Chavez changed the course of history for Latinos and farmworkers, empowering them to fight for fair wages, healthcare coverage, pension benefits, housing improvements, pesticide and health regulations, and countless other protections for their health and well-being,” Solis said in a statement. “We still have a lot to learn from his legacy.”

Among sites that have been discussed for recognition are the farm near Yuma, Ariz., where Chavez was born and Delano, Calif., where he led the grape boycott.

The study comes in response to 2008 legislation sponsored by Solis and Salazar during their days in the House and Senate, respectively.

The National Park Service will recommend to Congress whether any sites should be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designated a historic landmark or added to the national park system.