In deciding to join the Cabinet and serve as the nation’s 50th Secretary of the Interior, my friend and beloved colleague, the late Hawaii Senator Daniel K. Inouye, impressed upon me that the position of Interior Secretary was one of the most important in government because the Secretary was the keeper of the nation’s history and heritage.
Inspired by Senator Inouye’s counsel, and based in part upon my own life experiences, I committed my efforts at Interior to take advantage of the department’s unique abilities and authorities—and responsibility—to tell the full, more inclusive story of our nation’s rich and diverse history and cultures. We therefore launched action plans to include chapters of the nation’s history and cultures that have yet to be appropriately recognized and preserved. For example, with the full enthusiasm and leadership of the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, we established the American Latino Heritage Initiative to increase public awareness, engagement, and support for the national parks and historic sites that celebrate and tell the story of Latino history and culture in the U.S.
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We also launched efforts to expand the preservation and promotion of the sites, stories, and contributions of our nation’s women to the country’s history, culture, and society, and of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. We continued to strive to protect Native American cultural sites and to highlight African-American history.
The purpose of these efforts, however, is not to promote one aspect of our nation’s history and culture over another. To the contrary, the purpose of these efforts is to enhance and promote a greater understanding and appreciation of our diverse, complex history. Plymouth Rock, [End Page 3] Jamestown, and Paterson Great Falls define America. So, too, do the Indian Pueblos and burial mounds, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Fort Monroe, Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz, Stonewall Inn, and Angel Island.
The United States is not an old country by European or Far East standards. But what we may lack in antiquity, we make up for in other, historic human achievements and endeavors. The United States has the most incredible history of the coming together of numerous cultures, and of the accomplishments and advances made possible within our unique American society, that have awed and inspired the world’s peoples of all cultures and ethnicities for generations.
Throughout our nation’s complex history, one aspect has always remained clear and consistent—there are many faces of America. As a country of immigrants, this diversity has and will continue to lend great strength to our nation.
The ongoing strength and stability of our country is dependent upon its citizens from all backgrounds feeling invested in and having a stake in the nation. Recognizing and celebrating the contributions of all our constituent parts to the making of the rich fabric of American history is an important part of this investment.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its partners are critical to keeping alive our diverse history. The challenge—and opportunity—is to identify suitable monuments and moments of our history and to financially sustain their acquisition and preservation. Given the record and legacy of the National Trust and others in the preservation movement, I have every confidence that we will achieve a more perfect union of our country in the preservation, recording, and promotion of the full history of the United States of America.
Kenneth Salazar is the former Secretary of the Interior and former U.S. Senator from Colorado.