WASHINGTON — Lawmakers will take another modest step Tuesday toward saluting the legacy of the late farm labor leader Cesar Chavez.
The United Farm Workers founder already has his own stamp. Next could be federal recognition of the landmarks in his abundantly active life, under a bill set for approval by the House of Representatives.
"I hope . . . future generations may understand who Cesar Chavez was and the significance of his work," Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., said earlier this year.
Solis' legislation gives the Interior Department three years to study sites "significant to the life of Cesar E. Chavez and the farm labor movement in the western United States." Officials will examine ways to preserve the sites and interpret them to the public.
These sites could range from East San Jose, Calif., where Chavez began community organizing after World War II, to the dusty San Joaquin Valley farm town of Delano, Calif., where he began an early version of the UFW in 1962. Chavez died in April 1993.
In time, these various sites and others like them might be designated national historic landmarks or added to the 76,000 locations on the National Register of Historic Places. Theoretically, some eventually might be considered for inclusion in the national park system.
"We want to make sure we find the most appropriate locations," Sonia Melendez, a spokeswoman for Solis, said Monday.
Solis authored similar legislation honoring Chavez in the last Congress, but Republican leaders never brought it up for a vote. This year, with Democrats in charge and 69 House members signed on as co-sponsors, the measure is moving quickly.
The bill is a modest one that stops far short of designating a legal holiday honoring Chavez. Bills to establish a Chavez national holiday have been introduced repeatedly, including one that gathered 60 House co-sponsors last year. Consistently, they've died on the vine.
Other bills have sought to establish a congressional gold medal in Chavez's name, and likewise have stalled. Some of this stop-and-go traffic comes with the Capitol Hill territory, as relatively few of the roughly 2,000 House bills that are introduced each year are passed.
Chavez, moreover, isn't universally embraced in Congress, which often is attuned to the large agribusiness firms he spent his life fighting. None of the 11 California House members whose districts span the farm-rich San Joaquin Valley has signed on as co-sponsors of the Chavez bill introduced six months ago, for example.
"I think it's ridiculous," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said of the proposal. "There are plenty of things already named for Cesar Chavez, and he was a controversial figure. This is not something the federal government has any business doing."
The House bill doesn't specify how much the Interior Department will spend on the study. The money itself will have to be provided by a future Congress, once the Senate passes its own version of the bill, co-authored by California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Eight states designate some kind of official Chavez Day, including California, Texas and Arizona.
"I hope that his legacy and memory will someday become a fundamental piece of American history," Solis declared.