• Gretel Enck

Me and Cesar Chavez

No, I'm not a farm worker, and I'm not a Latina, and I don't even live in California anymore. But that doesn't mean we're not just a little connected. Did you know that on October 8th, just last month, the president signed a proclamation creating Cesar E. Chavez National Monument? The former home of Chavez and the headquarters of the United Farmworkers of America is now part of the National Park Service, and my colleagues have been entrusted to tell these stories.

In March 2006 I interviewed for a job at a park in Texas (can't remember if it was Big Bend or Guadalupe Mountains). Although I didn't get the job, I had a really great phone interview. The man who interviewed me,  in the course of talking about career goals, told me that his dream job was to be the first superintendent of a historic site dedicated to Cesar Chavez. Pipe dream, I thought, since no such site existed. Imagine my delight when I read that this man has in fact been brought in as the first superintendent of the new site. Talk about goal achieved. I sent him a note of congratulations and good wishes. And I told him that should he need advice and encouragement to drive not so far up the desert highway to Manzanar NHS and see what we'd done there.

Today I received a note from a former coworker at Manzanar with a different angle on this story. Seems that the Regional Director who oversees west coast national parks attended the grand opening of Cesar Chavez in October. She had a conversation with Chavez's son about the decision to entrust these stories and resources to the National Park Service. Evidently the family had great doubts about turning this important part of their lives and history over to the NPS. But then, Chavez's son drove his family "to a small national park to see what they could learn about how the National Park Service tells stories about America. It was nothing that was announced or coordinated-- just an unvarnished opportunity to spend as much or as little time as they wanted-- to look around and see what the future might hold. He drove them to Manzanar. They spent several hours there, like so many visitors that go to the park. They learned about Japanese internment, and World War II, and our nation's struggles. They learned about difficult stories of our shared past, and they saw that they were told with grace and honesty and skill. Paul said that as they walked to their car, one of his sons told him that having the NPS tell the story of La Paz and all the farm workers' stories was absolutely the right thing to do. One visit together to Manzanar, to see and feel how the park honors the stories there, helped them all see that the NPS was up to the challenge."

Boy, talk about validation. And it goes to show how great and valuable a chapter the Manzanar years were in my life, and the honor I had in working with a talented and caring group of people. Congratulations to those who came before me at Manzanar who worked with the communities and captured the oral histories and created such a meaningful interpretive center. I hope you all can go there one day.

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