As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday on Thursday, the Department of the Interior is taking a step back to reflect on the story of America’s history and the importance of preserving the diverse cultures that the service is striving to portray.
America’s great outdoors are all-encompassing – deep blue lakes and jagged mountain peaks, and hearty grasslands and arid deserts. The American people are just as diverse, bringing our unique experiences to these unique places.
When President Barack Obama designated César E. Chávez National Monument in 2012, he protected not just the place where the civil rights leader lived and worked, but a powerful story of a Hispanic American seeking a better life for farmworkers and their families.
The Chávez monument in Keene, which U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited Wednesday, honors the champion of the exploited Latino and Filipino farm workers of Central California and preserves the national headquarters of the United Farmworkers of America. More stories like Chávez’s are being considered for preservation through the park service’s Latino Theme Study.
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As the national park system has grown from 35 parks in 1916 to more than 400 today, so has the breadth of places it works to preserve and protect. Just in the past year, the president designated the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, home to the National Woman’s Party for 90 years; and the Stonewall National Monument, which preserves the history of the Stonewall uprising, a milestone in the quest for gay rights.
These new monuments stand as beacons for people who have experienced social injustice and inequality, and also serve as reminders of how far we have come as a nation.
As we celebrate 100 years of the National Park Service, we hope to inspire new audiences by ensuring that our parks and monuments accurately reflect our myriad cultures. It’s up to all of us – regardless of color, age or sexual orientation – to become passionate about conservation and these incredible places.
Mike Connor is deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.