When you consider that Latinos, particularly Mexican-Americans, have lived in what is now the US for more than 400 years, it’s surprising how little you hear about us in discussions of American history. This holds true on the highest levels – just over 3% of the officially designed properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places are recognized for their association with any racial or ethnic minority group.
Ken Salazar, the US Secretary of the Interior, is aiming to change that. Earlier this month, he unveiled his plan to better recognize Latino history, the American Latino Heritage Initiative. The National Park Service will spearhead a campaign to evaluate currently existing historic assets to identify missing links.
Secretary Salazer notes some early successes of the program on the White House’s official blog:
We have already made significant strides in implementing this initiative. For example, just one year ago, I had the honor to stand next to Paul Chávez, the son of a 20th century hero whose sacrifice improved the lives of millions. To celebrate the life and legacy of César Chávez, together we officially dedicated ’40 Acres’, the headquarters of the United Farm Workers as a National Historic Landmark. Cesar Chavez was a true champion of change and with the designation of the site where it all began, visitors will be able to learn about his story and appreciate his struggle toward a more perfect union.
This initiative is desperately needed – it’s sad how Latino history in the US often goes ignored. Large portions of what is now the US used to be parts of Mexico – the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 gave the US California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, and parts of Colorado and Utah. That wasn’t empty land – around 80,000 Mexican citizens woke up one day and found they’d suddenly become Americans.
That history is important and should be recognized. Too often, the history of the Western United States is treated as if it began with the US acquisition of Mexican territory, and the lives of those early Mexican-Americans are ignored entirely. I have no doubt that this initiative will uncover historic sites that are both valuable and incredibly interesting. Hopefully, similar initiatives for historic sites related to other ethnic groups will follow.