As a 12th generation native of the American Southwest, my roots in this country stretch back before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock or before America declared its independence. Like many other American Latinos today, I learned about my heritage firsthand through the cuentos, or stories, passed down by my parents and grandparents.
From the heroic service of my father and mother during World War II to my brother’s tireless work alongside César Chavez, the tales of my family’s past have always been a great source of identity and pride for me. It is a pride I carry with me every day, and it is a pride I will one day share with my granddaughter.
Every family has stories like these - stories that provide a deeper understanding of where we are from and what we have done to make this country what it is today. It is time that these stories, like those of my parents and brother, are shared beyond our families and reflected in our national narrative.
When I became Secretary of the Interior almost three years ago, I knew I had a lot of great resources at my disposal to help better tell the story of all Americans, including Latinos in this country. After sitting down with the National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis and his team, it became clear how the Department could help lead the effort to better recognize the contributions and stories of Latinos.
Some of this country’s most iconic moments and movements in history are captured in our national monuments, parks, and other sites of national significance. It is only fitting that the people and places of Latino heritage also join the National Park Service family for all Americans to visit and learn about their contributions.
With the National Museum of the American Latino being built in Washington, D.C. and the dedication of the Forty Acres site in California, we have made a lot of progress, but there is much work to be done. I look forward to hearing the ideas that come from today’s White House American Latino Heritage Forum and I am confident that we can make this project a reality.
Ken Salazar is the Secretary of the Interior