The National Park Service is recommending that Congress create a new historic park to honor farm labor leader Cesar Chavez, one that would be made up of four sites in California and a former Phoenix church hall where the now-famous rallying cry "Si se puede" was popularized.
The recommendation Thursday comes after years of study on sites that are significant to the life of Chavez and the U.S. farm labor movement. Congress authorized the study in 2008, and the Park Service narrowed a list of about 100 sites to five to become a multi-state national historic park.
Marc Grossman, Chavez's longtime spokesman, speech writer and personal aide, said including sites in Arizona and California is fitting because it recognizes the length and breadth of Chavez's labors.
As head of the United Farm Workers, the Arizona-born Chavez staged a massive grape boycott and countless field strikes, and forced growers to sign contracts providing better pay and working conditions to the predominantly Latino farmworkers. He was credited with inspiring millions of other Latinos in their fight for more educational opportunities, better housing and more political power.
United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta was at Chavez's side in downtown Phoenix during a 1972 fast that helped reshape Arizona's political landscape. Chavez and other UFW leaders had been talking about an Arizona law that restricted the rights of farmworkers to strike or boycott crops.
The response from farm workers and other labor leaders was one of defeat. Huerta responded by saying that workers should focus on thinking positively, saying: "Si se puede," or "It can be done."
Ultimately, thousands of farm workers and supporters such as Coretta Scott King participated in rallies and Masses in downtown Phoenix, giving voice to the United Farm Workers slogan.
The Santa Rita Center, constructed as an extension of the Sacred Heart Church, is a small building on an inner-city street near the airport. Chicanos Por La Causa, an organization that traces its roots to the activists who met there, opens it every so often for events. But it sits vacant most of the time.
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