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National Park Service seeking sites affiliated with Cesar Chavez

The National Park Service is retracing the life of Cesar Chavez, looking for sites to preserve in memory of the farm labor leader.

Most of the likely sites are in Kern County, where Chavez had the headquarters of the United Farm Workers.

Graceada Park in Modesto, where he held at least one rally, is on a park service list of 62 sites with weaker connections.

The agency launched the survey of sites under a law enacted in 2008. The purpose, it said, is "to recommend whether they are eligible to be designated as a unit of the national park system, and to consider a range of approaches to resource protection and public use and enjoyment."

Chavez, who died in 1993, is a hero to many for his efforts to improve pay and working conditions for farmworkers, most of them Latino. He founded the union in the early 1960s and had most of his success in that decade and the 1970s.

"We're moving for more dignity," Chavez said at a 1983 rally in Planada, Merced County. "The whole essence of the union is to bring dignity and respect to the workers."

Chavez drew the ire of many farmers with his tactics, including strikes and boycotts. He tangled with E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto over which union should represent vineyard workers.

Critics note the UFW's membership decline in more recent decades.

The two sides continue to clash today over union organizing, overtime rules and other issues, but tensions have eased in some areas.

The UFW and the California Farm Bureau Federation, for example, have worked on federal legislation that would ease the flow of immigrant farmworkers and reduce the barriers to U.S. citizenship.

The bill calling for the park service study was co-written by Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., who now oversees the agency as secretary of the interior.

"Our national park system tells the story of America, and Cesar Chavez and the farmworker movement are an important part of that story," Salazar said during a visit to Delano, Kern County, in February.

"We are looking for ways to tell this story to the American people in a way that truly honors his legacy," he said.

Share your thoughts

Several meetings in the coming weeks will provide a chance to comment to the National Park Service on how to honor César Chávez. The closest to Modesto are:

San Jose: 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Mayfair Community Center, 2039 Kammerer Ave.

Salinas: 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Steinbeck Institute of Art and Culture, 940 N. Main St.

Delano, Kern County: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 12 at The Forty Acres, 30168 Garces Highway.

The initial comment period will end May 27. For more information about the study, including how to submit ideas online, go to www.nps.gov/pwro/chavez.

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