Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Street by Any Other Name

Alright, is this the controversy we really need to have?

Industrial Boulevard, is a major artery west of downtown Dallas that is due for a major face lift as the area around the Trinity River is redeveloped. Where currently we have a glut of bail bond offices, liquor stores, gas stations and some light industrial, there will be parks, a lake, trails and a toll road.

The name 'Industrial Boulevard' doesn't fit the new vision for the area, so some city innovator decided to try a new experiment in hi-tech civic consensus building - an Internet poll to determine a new name, for an area of Dallas with a bright future. What could go wrong?

Overwhelmingly, Hispanic citizens voted to rename the street in honor of Cesar Chavez, the man who fought tirelessly for the rights of migrant farm workers in California. Make no mistake about it, Cesar Chavez is a real American hero. He is deserving of recognition, certainly worthy of having a street renamed in his honor.

Whoever, came up with this bright idea, obviously wanted names that would call to mind some type of nature aesthetic that would reflect the picturesque plans intended for the parks and lakes that are part of the plan for the Trinity River. Perhaps, 'Lakefront', or 'River view'. That didn't happen so the city council ignored the will of the people.

Does Cesar Chavez have anything to do with the Trinity River development? Not at all. Is there a direct correlation between Cesar Chavez's work and the parks intended for the area? No. But what difference does that make? No visitor from anywhere in the world would ever ask, "Why did they name it 'Cesar Chavez', instead of 'Lakefront'?

Now Dallas Hispanics have relented and changed their focus. They're asking that Ross Avenue, a main business corridor that runs through downtown Dallas, east into heavily Hispanic communities. Now we have another problem. The historic nature of 'Ross Avenue', which no one has ever discussed before.

Don't get me wrong. I love history. I think that it is a shame that in Dallas we don't preserve or appreciate our history as much as we should. But to object to renaming of Ross Avenue to Cesar Chavez, is equally as wrong headed as the objections to renaming Industrial Boulevard.

Chavez led the United Farm Workers Union and through non-violent protests, boycotts and hunger strikes brought to the attention of our country and the world, the plight of exploited migrant farm workers. He caught the attention of Robert Kennedy during his presidential campaign, as he toured the country to see first hand the conditions of poor people throughout our nation. His was a human rights warrior, of much the same consequence as Martin Luther King, or Medgar Evers. Obviously we've reached some threshold where changing the world, isn't enough to qualify you for honor in our city - unless you have lived in Dallas.

I like the writing of Darwin Payne and he wrote an op-ed column in the Dallas Morning News, defending keeping the name Ross Avenue. He sites some interesting examples of persons and events that are of local interest - none of which come to mind when you think of the name of the street, unless you are a local historian, or unless you or your family have lived here for more than a hundred years.

The Dallas school district headquarters is on Ross Avenue. Ironically, in Dallas, we have minority children who attend schools named for Confederate Civil War generals: Albert Sydney Johnston and John B. Hood, immediately come to mind. These are men, who fought for a cause which if successful, would have denied access to the public education of the very children who now attend those schools, children who rarely learn of the exploits of the many heroes of color who have transformed the world in which they live . It's worth the trouble and the loss of local 'history', to rename Ross Avenue if those same children are moved to ask "Who is Cesar Chavez?".

They definitely aren't asking, 'Who are the Ross'?' And too few of us know enough to tell them.
Perhaps, this must come to some political fight. But really, is it worth it? Rename Ross Avenue Cesar Chavez Avenue. The intentional or unintentional insult to our Hispanic citizens is not worth the trouble this is causing.

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