Chavez building closer to federal recognition
Site of civil rights leader's Az protest eyed by Park Service
PHOENIX — The building where Cesar Chavez fasted to protest an Arizona law limiting the rights of farm workers has cleared another hurdle toward gaining federal recognition.
The Santa Rita Center near downtown Phoenix could be added to the National Park System under a draft proposal the National Park Service has posted for public comment.
The plan, prompted by legislation passed by Congress in 2008, identifies the building as one of five nationally significant sites connected to Chavez and the United Farm Workers movement.
U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D–Phoenix, whose district includes the center, said federal recognition would be an exciting opportunity for the city of Phoenix.
“I think this historical site would be very important because it is a reminder of the legacy of Chavez,” he said.
The Park Service proposed four alternatives for honoring Chavez, including two featuring the Santa Rita Center. Those plans include making the building part of a national historical park in California and Arizona and adding it to a national network of sites related to Chavez.
“It’s a big ‘Wow’ for us,” said Casper Habre, a board member for Chicanos por la Causa, which owns the Santa Rita Center.
In 1972, the Santa Rita Center hosted Chavez for 19 days of his 24–day “fast for love.” He protested an Arizona law limiting the rights of farmworkers and organized a voter registration drive and effort to recall then-Gov. Jack Williams.
Out of that protest came Chavez’s rallying cry, “Sí se puede,” Spanish for, “Yes we can.”
Of the five sites deemed nationally significant, the Santa Rita Center is the only one in Arizona. The other four are in California.
A study that yielded the recommendations identified seven other sites in Arizona for possible recognition, including the family homestead in Yuma, where Chavez spent much of his childhood, and the United Farm Workers field office in San Luis. But more research is needed on the structural integrity and historical value of those sites, said Martha Crusius, the National Park Service project manager.
“The sites in Yuma and San Luis are significant, but we need more information on the integrity of those sites before making a determination.” she said.
Under one plan the Santa Rita Center would become part of a national historical park that would promote educational opportunities for visitors and link the building to the four sites in California. This option would allow the secretary of interior to add sites later.
It would also give the National Park Service an option to purchase the property if Chicanos por la Causa is willing to sell.
Another option is voluntary participation by the owners in a national network linking the building to the California sites, museums and interpretive programs.
Two other options would honor only California sites.
The proposal is open to public comment for 30 days before being revised and sent to the Department of the Interior by early December, Crusius said. After that, it will go to Congress.
While it’s still uncertain whether the Santa Rita Center will become part of the National Park System, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said the city is proud to remember Chavez.
“The Santa Rita Center and Hall is important not just to Phoenix but to the very promise of America,” Gordon said in a statement emailed by his office. “The world changed at Santa Rita, and Cesar Chavez changed it.”