Monday, November 17, 2008

What's in a name? Plenty, actually!


Dallas can be a downright confusing place in which to live. In some ways, it's even worse when you've been here most all of your life.

Take the Cesar Chavez naming controversy that's been in the news since last summer.

Here's a summary.

With the Trinity River project going forward, the City decided to have a contest to rename Industrial Boulevard. Given all the new development, the anticipated park land and the rebirth of the Trinity River and its corridor, a new name seemed appropriate. You know, something like "Riverside Drive" or "Park Lake Lane."

Right?

Well no, wrong.

The name that won, and won overwhelmingly, was Cesar Chavez, the iconic Latino labor and civil rights leader of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s era and value-vision. In the Hispanic community Chavez holds the place of Dr. King, as should both for the entire nation in terms of how their lives affected needed change, progress and the further realization of justice in the nation as a whole.

Not hard to see how the name of Mr. Chavez won out in the contest, what with the growing Hispanic population in our community and the dearth of Latino street names to celebrate the various achievements of folks who shared this ethnic heritage.

But, our city leaders see it differently. Last week they voted to go with the name "Riverfront." In addition, they turned back the suggestion that Ross Avenue be renamed after the civil rights leader. The argument being that changing historic designations like the use of a family name of a prominent figure in the history of Dallas would be inappropriate. Needless to say, the Hispanic members of the City Council--Dr. Elba Garcia, Pauline Medrano, and Steve Salazar--were not pleased.

Alternative suggestions are now floating about, including the idea to rename the Dallas Farmers Market after Chavez, possibly a fitting tribute to a leader who did so much to ease the burden for so many farm workers.

Even The Dallas Morning News' editorial board expressed concern over the snub to Hispanic Dallasites. You can read their opinion here.

But, back to being from Dallas.

There are lots of street names here, mostly Anglo, though we do have our M. L. King Boulevard and Malcolm X Boulevard. Even our freeways hold out lots of prominent Anglo names: George H. W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson, Woodall Rogers, John Stemmons, John Carpenter, R. L. Thornton.

Hmmm. That last one is interesting.

"R. L. Thornton. "

Robert L. Thornton, to be exact.

I grew up hearing my dad speak fondly of "Uncle Bob" Thornton. Thornton served as Dallas Mayor from 1953 to 1961. He was president of the Dallas County State Bank and a prominent business and civic figure in the city.

What's really interesting is the fact that, like most Dallas leaders of the era, Thornton was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Thornton's firm proudly advertised in local media that the bank he led was a "KKK business firm 100%" (see Michael Phillips, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Relgion In Dallas, 1841-2001, University of Texas Press, page 96).

I'm sure "Uncle Bob" did a lot of good back in the day for folks who looked about like me. But I suspect that African American, Mexican American, Catholic and Jewish folks didn't get along quite as well under his leadership.

I don't know, but a little digging into these Anglo street and freeway names might not be such a bad idea. Maybe brushing up on the history of our city might take the luster off of some of the old names we seem so bound and determined to hang on to.

Of course, I don't see why we can't rename Main, Elm, Commerce or Pacific after Cesar Chavez. It's not like we don't have lots of options. In my view, it would be a really good thing to have the memory of Cesar Chavez running right through the middle of Downtown Dallas.

What do you think?

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15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening. I used to work with migrant children and we celebrated Cesar Chavez day.

Anonymous said...

While sympathetic to the idea of naming something in honor of Chavez, I must confess a dislike for changing the names of well known, prominent streets. I also like street names with geographic significance (i.e. Riverside). Maybe it's just that I'm already sometimes directionally challenged.

I like the Farmer's Market idea. MLK runs right through the heart of "Black Dallas," which seems appropriate. Maybe Chavez Blvd could be a prominent West Dallas street. Since it is most meaningful to Hispanics, perhaps it should be located where more Hispanics would see it, and be inspired by it, day in, day out.

Anonymous said...

Maybe they someone like to you be on city council, seriously.

Anonymous said...

MLK runs right through the heart of "Black Dallas," which seems appropriate.

Interesting comment. I am white, but I think that MLK has made a significant positive impact on my life too.

I think civil rights leaders have affected everyone, not just a certain race?

But actually, Lubbock, TX does the same thing.

I do see your point of not changing the names though.... a city council member in Lubbock (who happens to be African American) thought the same thing.

Janet said...

Anonymous 8:46~
Why does Cesar Chavez have to be placed in a Hispanic area?? Why is he only significant to Hispanics? Why is MLK only significant to African-Americans??

"perhaps it should be located where more Hispanics would see it, and be inspired by it, day in, day out."

That implies that the rest of us [white] people can't possibly be inspired by a Hispanic or African-American leader.

I would like to think that day in our society is gone.

Cesar Chavez needs to be named in a prominent area that ALL of Dallas can and will see. My letter to the city council was NOT Ross avenue because it is predominantly Hispanic. I advocated for the bigger, more significant change of Industrial. But not only would they not rename Industrial...they wouldn't even rename Ross. I'm appalled by the way this has been handled in Dallas.

Anonymous said...

It's not at all that whites (or others) "can't" be inspired by Chavez or other civil rights leaders. But hasn't everyone recognized that Obama's election has a special significance for African Americans? I think streets named after any leader being placed where those most likely to be inspired by them makes sense for the same reason. (I think you're being a little too quick to see racism lurking in every crack, Janet.)

Anonymous said...

To anon 9:03 -

Respectfully and kindly, I just want to say that I don't think Janet is being a "little too quick to see racism lurking in every crack". I agree with her 100%.

For one thing there are plenty of black and hispanic people that don't live in that area.

I think they should be placed where EVERYONE can be inspired by them.

I may not agree with Janet and Mr. James on their political issues, but they hit the target on issues with poverty and social injustice.

Anonymous said...

I supported keeping the name Industrial Blvd. It doesn't honor a rich white man and it does provide a feel for the past in Dallas.
I feel that Cesar Chavez in the Farmers Market area would be more in keeping with his fight for all migrant workers (contrary to popular belief, not all the workers he fought for were Hispanic, my poor white family had a stint as migrant workers and were mistreated as well).

Bill Betzen said...

Sadly the Cesar Chavez name delay is showing a painful side of Dallas, and our history, as it is slowly exposed in the process of looking for the reasons for such behavior.
Limiting the Cesar Chavez name to Farmers Market is another 'accommodation' in a long list of such that appears designed to keep minority names out of sight.

Did you know that in 1995 there was a "Cesar Chavez Plaza" dedicated in the center of Farmers Market on a section of street that used to be a section of Pearl St? Over 99.9% of Dallas doesn't know about it either. There is a plaque on the side of Building #2 dedicating the Plaza as Cesar Chavez Plaza, but on the Farmer's Market own web site the words "Cesar Chavez" did not exist as of yesterday when I created a report on this fact, and other related facts. See www.studentmotivation.org/CesarChavezAve. That web site recommends that all of Pearl from the Farmers Market north to where it ends, along with Moody St, all be renamed in honor of Cesar Chavez. That effort would unite Little Mexico and the historic center thereof, St. Ann's School, with the Guadalupe Cathedral and Farmers Market, all along the same street going through the center of downtown Dallas, and within two blocks of the Latino Cultural Center. The Dallas City Archivist is unable to find the source for either the Pearl or the Moody name. Study the web site to see if you can find other potential problems with this renaming idea. This may be the third solid idea for the Cesar Chavez name. If Dallas again rejects it, we have a painful pattern that may justify expanding the lesson plan in tolerance that was created online using this naming process in Dallas. That lesson plan is linked from the web site mentioned above.

Cheryl Russell said...

I agree with you!

Anonymous said...

This is probably the wrong place to bring this up, but am I the only person who is bothered by the confederate generals that are used to name buildings? Why don't we change the name of Robert E Lee park to Cesar Chavez? That would be a 2-for-1 fix in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

This is probably the wrong place to bring this up, but am I the only person who is bothered by the confederate generals that are used to name buildings? Why don't we change the name of Robert E Lee park to Cesar Chavez? That would be a 2-for-1 fix in my opinion.

Danny said...

anonymous,

No you are not the only one bothered by that. I think every school, statue and monument erected to every confederate civil war general needs to be replaced! And Cesar Chavez would be an excellent replacement.

I don't think its going to happen though!

Anonymous said...

All of you "get rid of the confederate name" folks should think about the atrocities of most of our US leaders over the past 200 years? Should we take their names down as well? Most of them owned slaves. Many of them participated in plenty of abuses against native americans. Lee, for example, did not fight to keep slavery, in fact, while not being an abolitionist, he did not believe the practice to be moral or right. Lee fought because he couldn't fight against his home state.

But, maybe its a better idea just to wipe the past clean of anyone who might have made different moral positions in a different time. I mean, surely we can judge historical people through modern morality right?

Ryan said...

Just a random thought: I don't mean to go off topic (this is a great post!), but when did "Anglo" become an acceptable term for people of European heritage? I know plenty of German, Italian, and Irish Americans who might not be too happy about being lumped in with the English!
So sorry, but it had to be said!