According to press reports, when White House Chief Domestic Policy Advisor Cecilia Muñoz first got to Washington, D.C., 25 years ago, her job was “Latinos 101 – ‘here’s who we are, etc.’” Today, I hope she counts among her many accomplishments her role in championing the community-led efforts that resulted in President Obama protecting the César E. Chávez National Monument in California in 2012 and New Mexico’s breathtaking Rio Grande del Norte National Monument earlier this year.
The national League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) this past weekend unanimously approved a resolution thanking President Obama for protecting both national monuments so that these places and stories can inspire generations to come.
Protecting our Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks would be another step toward achieving that balance between developing our energy resources and conserving our great outdoors.
- Ralph Arellanes
The national resolution comes on the heels of one passed by New Mexican members of LULAC. In May, we joined with the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico to approve identical resolutions that celebrate these steps toward acknowledging the contributions of Hispanos and Latinos in U.S. history.
But like the national membership of LULAC, we too, called on the White House to consider protecting additional sites that interpret and preserve rich cultural traditions of American Latinos. Despite the best efforts of Ms. Muñoz and so many others, we still need to say “here’s who we are.”
César E. Chávez was a labor and civil rights leader whose efforts in the farm worker movement helped build a foundation for workers’ rights in the United States, not only for American Latinos — but all Americans. Located in Keene, California, this monument protects Chávez’s home and gravesite as well as the headquarters of United Farm Workers of America, better known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz.
The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument protects 242,555 acres of public lands northwest of Taos. The region has been deeply tied to Hispanic culture for centuries. The monument recognizes and protects traditional Hispano uses of the land, including hunting, grazing, and the gathering of firewood and piñon nuts.
Of course, these two sites alone do not encompass the diverse Hispano and Latino-American story. As scholar Dr. Stephen J. Pitti wrote in the National Park Service-commissioned report, American Latinos and the Making of the United States: A Theme Study: “Deeply embedded in economic and political life across many decades, Latinos have played instrumental roles in the development of the U.S., and public recognition of the Latino past is long overdue.”
Here in New Mexico, we point to the Organ Mountains Desert-Peaks near Las Cruces as an opportunity to further recognize American Latino’s cultural contributions to our nation. Local elected officials, small business owners, veterans, sportsmen, Native American tribes, the Hispano Round Table of New Mexico, and LULAC-NM are all calling for its protection as a national monument to preserve its historic significance.
People traveling El Camino Real from Chihuahua to Santa Fe passed through here. The mid-1800s war and boundary disputes with Mexico were fought and resolved here. Many Hispano families trace their roots to this region and its colorful history.
It is our responsibility now to protect that history for the next generation. The president has been challenged to protect as many acres of public lands as he leases for oil and gas development — an issue we know well in New Mexico. Protecting our Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks would be another step toward achieving that balance between developing our energy resources and conserving our great outdoors. We hope that the president takes additional steps forward to honor our Latino heritage and shows our grandchildren, “here’s who we are.”
Ralph Arellanes is the New Mexico State Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).