Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What is a Chicano, and what does this have to do with Cesar Chavez?

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon—Sometimes, Portland strikes me as The Land that Time Forgot: isolated geographically from most of the nation, historically hostile to racial and ethnic minorities, and uniquely ignorant of the complexities that define and separate the panoply of Hispanic and Latino cultures and communities.

Nothing has brought this last point to the fore so much as the efforts by the Committee-Once-Bent-on-Renaming-Interstate-Avenue to rename a street somewhere, anywhere in Portland after the great Mexican-American Chicano hero Cesar Chavez, without actually identifying him as such.

The vast majority of Oregonians, it appears, cannot tell one from another, and for the most part can’t imagine that it makes a difference: Latino, Hispanic, Mexican-American, Chicano….

The terms are most definitely NOT interchangeable

Before you read more about what I have to say, at the bottom of this post, please read through these sources; it will do you no harm:

1. Encyclopedia.com:


“Chicanos (USA) Originally the descendants of Mexicans living in the area of the USA occupied in the Mexican–American War of 1846–8. In the 1950s the name was gradually adopted by Mexican Americans, who as the country's second largest minority group began to develop a distinctive consciousness.

“Chicano cultural organizations were formed, while successful trade union activity led by Cesar Chavez led to some improvements in pay and working conditions in the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, the 1970s brought some educational advances with the establishment of bilingual and bicultural courses….”

© A Dictionary of Contemporary World History 2004, originally published by Oxford University Press 2004.


2. From The Chicano Chronicles:

“There are other theories and explanations (for the origin of “Chicano”), but it doesn't really matter because the meaning of the term drastically changed in the 1960's when it was picked up by Mexican-American activists.

“Along with the farm workers' strikes led by Cesar Chavez, politicians and Mexican-American universities started a movement to better the social position of Mexican-Americans in the United States. Not only that, but to also reclaim our past and rediscover who we truly are and where we came from.

“The 'Chicano Movement' came about, and was very successful in giving a voice to people traditionally ignored.

“Since then, the label 'Chicano' means 'Mexican-American', but it has a political charge to it: Pro-Raza. 'Chicano' is synonymous with 'Brown Pride'.


3. The Free Dictionary:

“Usage Note: Chicano is used only of Mexican Americans, not of Mexicans living in Mexico. It was originally an informal term in English (as in Spanish), and the spelling of the first recorded instance in an American publication followed the Spanish custom of lowercasing nouns of national or ethnic origin. However, the literary and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s among Mexican Americans established Chicano as a term of ethnic pride, and it is properly written today with a capital.

“While Chicano is a term of pride for many Mexican Americans, it remains a word with strong political associations. Since these politics are not necessarily espoused by all Mexican Americans, and since usage and acceptance of this word can vary from one region to another, an outsider who is unfamiliar with his or her audience may do well to use Mexican American instead.”


4. Dr. Ricardo Sanchez on The meaning of “Chicano”:

“Hispanic means someone who is Spanish or of Peninsular culture, but Chicanos are mestizos whose bloodlines are much more índio than español….

Rubén Salazar, a broadcast and print reporter in California, wrote about the human and social condition(s) of Chicanos.

“He wrote of a people that had become veritable ‘strangers in their own land,’ yet he stressed that Chicano meant looking at oneself through one's ‘own’ eyes and not through Anglo bifocals.

“Those words were a godsend to many of us, for those words of simplicity and rationality were spiritually and intellectually liberating.

“Salazar was killed by the Los Angeles Police Department, and the speculation persists that he was assassinated for his stands on behalf of a voiceless people….”


5. Wikipedia on Ruben Salazar:

“Rubén Salazar (March 3, 1928 - August 29, 1970) was a Mexican-American news reporter killed by the sheriffs during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War on August 29, 1970 in East Los Angeles, California.

During the 1970s, his killing was often cited as a symbol of unjust treatment of Latinos by law enforcement.

“Salazar was a reporter and columnist for the Los Angeles Times between 1959 - 1970[1]. He was also news director for the Spanish language television station KMEX in Los Angeles.

“On August 29, 1970 he was covering the National Chicano Moratorium March, organized to protest the disproportionate number of Chicanos killed in the Vietnam War.

“The peaceful march ended with a rally that was broken up by the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department using tear gas. This resulted in rioting, during which Salazar was shot in the head at short range with a tear gas projectile while seated in The Silver Dollar Cafe. A coroner's inquest ruled the shooting a homicide, but the police officer involved, Tom Wilson, was never prosecuted. At the time many believed the homicide was a premeditated assassination of a very vocal member of the Los Angeles Chicano community.

“The story of Salazar's killing gained nationwide notoriety with the release of Strange Rumblings in Aztlan, an article written for Rolling Stone magazine by noted gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and released on April 29, 1971 in Rolling Stone #81.

Ruben Salazar Honors

“In 1971 he was posthumously awarded a special Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, and after the controversy of his death had subsided, Laguna Park - the site of the 1970 rally and subsequent police action - was renamed Salazar Park in his honour.

“His death was commemorated in a corrido by Lalo Guerrero entitled "El 29 de Agosto".

“At Sonoma State University, the former library, now an administration and classroom building, is named for Ruben Salazar, in memory of his work in Sonoma County as a reporter for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. As well, a classroom building at California State University, Los Angeles is named for him. On October 12, 2006, the hall was rededicated with the unveiling of his portrait by John Martin.

“On October 5, 2007, the United States Postal Service announced that it would honor five journalists of the 20th century times with first-class rate postage stamps, to be issued on Tuesday, April 22, 2008: Martha Gellhorn, John Hersey, George Polk, Ruben Salazar, and Eric Sevareid.”


6. Wikipedia on Chicano:

Definition: Chicano (feminine Chicana) is a word for a Mexican American (in the sense of U.S.-born Americans of Mexican ancestry, as opposed to Mexican natives living in the United States). The terms Chicano and Chicana (also spelled Xicano) were originally used by and regarding U.S. citizens of Mexican descent.

Political identity:

According to the Handbook of Texas:

Inspired by the courage of the farmworkers, by the California strikes led by César Chávez, and by the Anglo-American youth revolt of the period, many Mexican-American university students came to participate in a crusade for social betterment that was known as the Chicano movement.

They used Chicano to denote their rediscovered heritage, their youthful assertiveness, and their militant agenda. Though these students and their supporters used Chicano to refer to the entire Mexican-American population, they understood it to have a more direct application to the politically active parts of the Tejano community.

At certain points in the 1970s, Chicano was the preferred, politically correct term to use in reference to Mexican-Americans, particularly in the scholarly literature. However, as the term became politicized, its use fell out of favor as a means of referring to the entire population. Since then, Chicano has tended to refer to politicized Mexican-Americans…. Chicano is considered to be a positive term of honor by many.

Political aspects:

Many currents came together to produce the revived Chicano political movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Early struggles were against school segregation, but the Mexican American cause, or La Causa as it was called, soon came under the banner of the United Farm Workers and César Chávez.


7. BlogoliticalSean:

Chicanos are the warrior class. Not everyone likes to hear that.” –Sean Cruz

About Sean: Sean Cruz was born Mexican-American in California. He became a Chicano in 1970 while studying political science at Sonoma State University, protesting the Viet Nam war, and supporting Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers, the same year Ruben Salazar was killed. Sonoma State’s former library building was renamed in honor of Ruben Salazar.

Sean Cruz writes Blogolitical Sean: www.blogoliticalsean.blogspot.com

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Cesar Chavez, Mexican American, Chicano

Racially and ethnically, Cesar Chavez was a Mexican-American; more specifically, a Chicano.

His struggles and accomplishments stemmed from his experience in the world of mostly Mexican migrant farm workers.

It was not a Hispanic experience or a Latino experience; it was very specifically a Mexican-American experience, subject to discrimination and injustice at every stage of life in these United States.

One cannot begin to honor the memory of Cesar Chavez without understanding those fundamental facts.

As well-meaning as many Portlanders are regarding Cesar Chavez, the public discussion is stifled by the prevalence of so many wrong assumptions….

Renaming a street is not a Latino community issue or a Hispanic community issue; it is an idea brought forth by the only two people who have publicly identified themselves as being members of the Committee; an idea that was seized upon by other well-meaning but badly misinformed Portlanders.

Their campaign has been as badly handled as anything Emily Boyles ever put together, but probably ranking higher on the embarrassment scale.

The Chavez Committee has failed to educate the public with any discussion of this Mexican-American hero’s life and accomplishments, has offered nothing but negative attitude to the process, has frozen out any other ideas but that of its own two members.

Like Cesar Chavez, I am the son and grandson of Mexican farmworkers, and a Chicano. I would like to see this great man honored in the City of Portland in a permanent, physical and public way as much as any other person in the present commotion.

But it doesn’t have to be a street renaming to suit me, I am in no way stuck on that. I emphatically disagree with the notion that renaming a street is the only "acceptable" way to honor Chavez.

A library, a school, a park or a bridge; all make more sense if we are talking about the Cesar Chavez familiar to most Mexican Americans, most Chicanos.

With all due respect, if you knew anything more than a paragraph deep about Cesar Chavez, you would understand that.

More thinking on this subject is here:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Honoring Cesar Chavez in Oregon? Vote NO on Bill Sizemore's Measure 58!

Portland--Over the next weeks and months, the City of Portland will once again endure a cycle of gratuitous division and bitter debate as the renaming-Interstate debacle metastasizes along three new axes: Sandy, Grand and 39th.

The Committee that Claims to Own the Chavez-Honoring Franchise in Portland has switched its choice of weaponry from last years’ clubbing and bullying to this year’s shotgun approach, firing blindly down three different streets, hoping to hit something out there on the east side of town.

It remains to be seen whether the bullying and stubbornness that characterized last year’s Assault on Interstate will continue, but so far there is no sign that any lessons have been learned by the Committee and its still-anonymous members.

The absurdly poor timing of the Committee’s filing, just a couple of months before the November election indicates that they remain oblivious to the real-life issues confronting Cesar Chavez’ people in Oregon.

Like last year, there will be a surge of public expressions of anger, resentment and overt bigotry targeted specifically against people of Mexican ancestry.

This will put many Oregonians in a fine mood to support Bill Sizemore’s anti-ESL initiative, which targets the children of Oregon’s largely Mexican agricultural work force, seeks to deny them educational opportunity and to deter others like them from bringing their children to our state.

And we as a City are about to chew over “honoring” Cesar Chavez in the only way that the mysterious Committee-Formerly-Bent-on-Renaming-Interstate-Avenue can accept: a stretch of asphalt and street signs, any direction will do.

Each of these three selections is certain to generate a lot of heat, and heat always costs money. Public heat costs public money.

The City has budgeted money for a consultant and a public process is underway.

A Public Service Moment:

As a public service, and in the interest of saving the City money, I am providing herein some essential resource information that any entity considering ways to honor Cesar Chavez should consider—a list of the ways he has been honored throughout the nation.

That consultant will probably want to charge you five or six thousand dollars for this information (in a nice tidy binder), but you can have it here for free:

1. Library of Congress (America’s Library), Washington, D.C.:

Cesar Chavez
Born: March 31, 1927
Died: April 23, 1993

“Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American labor activist and leader of the United Farm Workers. During the 20th century he was a leading voice for migrant farm workers (people who move from place to place in order to find work). His tireless leadership focused national attention on these laborers' terrible working conditions, which eventually led to improvements.“

Link: http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/aa/chavez

2. Wikipedia: See List of places named after Cesar Chavez:


A. Communities named after Cesar Chavez:

César Chávez (unincorporated area in Hidalgo County)

B. Parks named after Cesar Chavez:

César Chávez Square (Phoenix)
César Chávez Park (Laveen)

Plaza de César Chávez (San Jose)
Cesar E. Chavez Plaza (Sacramento)
César E. Chávez Waterfront Park (San Diego)
César E. Chávez Park (Delano)
César Chávez Park (Berkeley)
César E. Chávez Park (Modesto, California)
César E. Chávez Elementary School (Norwalk, California)
UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana & Chicano Studies, (Los Angeles, California)

C. Major streets named after Cesar Chavez:

César Chávez Street (San Luis) (formerly 1st Street)
Cesar Chavez Avenue (Somerton) (formerly Avenue F)

César E. Chávez Avenue (Los Angeles) (formerly Brooklyn Avenue, Macy Street and part of Sunset Boulevard)
César Chávez Street (San Francisco) (formerly Army Street)
Calle César Chávez (Santa Barbara) (formerly South Salsipuedes Street)
César E. Chávez Parkway (San Diego) (formerly Crosby Street)
César Chávez Drive (Oxnard) (newer street planned to commemorate César Chávez)

New Mexico
Avenida César Chávez (Albuquerque) (formerly Stadium Avenue)

César Chávez Drive (Flint) (I-475 Service Drive through Downtown)
César E. Chávez Avenue (Pontiac) (M-24 Business)

Cesar Chavez Avenue (Minneapolis) (formerly 2nd Ave N)
César Chávez Street (Saint Paul) (formerly Concord St)

Avenida César Chávez (Kansas City) (formerly 23rd St)

César Chávez Street (Austin) (formerly 1st Street)
César Chávez Border Highway (El Paso) (formerly Border Highway)

César E. Chávez Drive (Milwaukee) (formerly S. 16th Street)

500 South in Salt Lake City bears the honorary designation César E. Chávez Boulevard

D. Libraries named after Cesar Chavez:

César E. Chávez Regional Branch (Phoenix)

Maywood César Chávez Library (Maywood) [1]
César E. Chávez Branch Library (Oakland) [2]
Cesár Chávez Public Library (Salinas) [3]
César Chávez Central Library (Stockton) [4]
Cesar Chavez Library (Perris, California)

E. K-12 Schools named after Cesar Chavez:

César Chávez Elementary School (San Luis)
César Chávez Community School (Phoenix, Arizona)
César Chávez High School (Laveen, Arizona)

Chávez High School (Delano)
Chávez High School (Santa Ana)
Cesar Chavez High School (Stockton)
César E. Chávez School for Social Change (Santa Cruz)
César Chávez Middle School (San Bernardino)
César Chávez Middle School (Union City)
Cesar Chavez Elementary School (Corona, California)
César Chávez Elementary School (Davis)
César Chávez Elementary School (Oxnard) (formerly Juanita Elementary School)
César Chávez Elementary School (Greenfield, California)
César Chávez Elementary School (Salinas)
César Chávez Elementary School (San Francisco)
César Cházez Elementary School (San Jose, California)
Cesar E. Chavez Academy (East Palo Alto, California)
Cesar Chavez Continuing Center (San Diego, California)
César E. Chávez Branch Library (Oakland, California)
Cesar Chavez High School (Compton, California)

Cesar Chavez Academy (Pueblo, Colorado)

César E. Chávez Multicultural Academic Center (Chicago)

César Chávez Elementary School (Unincorporated Prince George's County - Hyattsville address)

Academia Cesar Chavez Charter School (St. Paul)

César Chávez High School (Detroit)
César Chávez Middle School (Detroit)
César Chávez Academy Elementary School (Detroit)
César E. Chávez Elementary School (Detroit)

New Mexico
César E. Chávez Elementary School (Las Cruces)
César Chávez Elementary School (Santa Fe)

César Chávez Elementary School (Eugene)

Chávez High School (Houston)
César Chávez Middle School (La Joya)
César Chávez Middle School (Waco)
César Chávez Elementary School (Dallas)
César Chávez Elementary School (Fort Worth)
César Chávez Elementary School (Little Elm)
César Chávez Elementary School (Pharr)
César Chávez Academy (El Paso)

Washington, D.C.
César Chávez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy

César Chávez Elementary School (Unincorporated Dane County - Madison address)

F. Post-secondary schools named after Cesar Chavez:

César Chávez Building, (Formerly the Econ Building) University of Arizona (Tucson)

César Chávez Campus of the Fresno Adult School (Fresno)
César Chávez Building (A building), Santa Ana College (Santa Ana)
César Chávez Student Center, San Francisco State University (San Francisco)
César Chávez Student Center, University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley)

César Chávez Cultural Center at the University of Northern Colorado

G. Former places named after Cesar Chavez:

Colegio César Chávez


Categories: Mexican-American history | Lists of places

Note the cross-indexing of Cesar Chavez with Mexican-American history—sc.

4. Selected examples:


1. Located next to a lake in beautiful Cesar Chavez Park, Cesar Chavez Library is a Regional Library serving the communities of Laveen and South Mountain. This Library includes many exciting features, including a computer training lab, a first five years area, an inviting children's story room, a spacious community meeting room, 57 Internet computers, a 1,000 square foot state of the art teen space, and a 150,000 volume collection including newspapers and magazines, books, DVDs and CDs. The building is inspired by both its functional requirements and its special park setting near a lake with views of South Mountain.

Directions: Cesar Chavez is located on Baseline Road just west of 35th Avenue next to Cesar Chavez Park. Please see the Valley Metro website for public transportation routes serving the Cesar Chavez Branch Library.

Size: 25,000 square feet
Opened: January 2007
Total Staff: 25.5 FTE
Total Items in Collection: 111,635
Total # of Public PCs with Internet: 57

LINK: http://www.phoenixpubliclibrary.org/branchinfo.jsp?bid=BCC

The American Institute of Architects on the Cesar Chavez Library:

The Cesar Chavez Library is integrated into a park made of mounded earth adjacent to a large constructed lake—a remnant from mid-20th century water attitudes. Unlike climates that will have rain every week, the desert is a unique circumstance that requires special consideration of water as well as energy conservation. The limitations imposed by the site, and these values, developed the innovations to be discussed in later measures.

This project was chosen as an AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Project for 2008.

Environmental Aspects: The desert environment presented several challenges that created opportunities for green building strategies. Extensive overhangs protect the building from solar heat gain and glare. Window walls provide daylighting and views to the outdoors. Roof-top rainwater collection provides water for irrigation, and low-flow fixtures indoors limit potable water use. To lessen cooling needs, the building was built into the site and bermed with excavated earth. Owned and occupied by City of Phoenix. Typically occupied by 26 people, 40 hours per person per week; and 6,400 visitors per week, 1 hour per visitor per week



Maywood Cesar Chavez Library:

The library was established in February 1921 and was called Maywood Free Public Library. In September, 1993, the city council rededicated the library in honor of César Chávez.


County of Los Angeles Public Library:

The following collection of resources honor the legacy and name of Cesar E. Chavez. They paint a portrait of his life’s work within the California labor movement, his humanitarian/non-violent philosophies and unique distinction as one of the world’s most respected civil rights advocates.

Community Service Week
Library Events
Prayer of the Farm Workers' Struggle
United Farm Workers Flag
Reading Lists

César Chávez Curriculum Materials (PDF)
Table of Contents
Grandpa's Short Handled Hoe Story
The Pledge of Allegiance Story
Coloring Pages & Activites
Grandpa's Short Handled Hoe Play
De Colores Song
Remembering César E. Chávez Story
Short Handled Hoe Activity
César Chávez Facts


From the County of Los Angeles Public Library Cesar Chavez Collection:

1. At an age when most boys and girls play at school, César worked with his family picking celery, oranges, lettuce, grapes and other fruits and vegetables.
1. Mientras los niños jugaban en las escuelas, César trabajaba con su familia recogiendo apio, naranjas, lechugas, uvas y otras frutas y vegetales.

2. It was hard work. Many said, Sal si puedes (Leave if you can.)
2. El trabajo era muy duro. Muchos decían, Sal si puedes.

3. César saw how families got sick after working in the fields.
3. César vió como las familias se enfermaban trabajando en los campos.

4. Pesticides were sprayed on the plants to stop bugs.
4. Los pesticidas fueron rociados en las plantas para matar a los insectos.

5. César wanted the bugs to be stopped another way.
5. César quiso que los insectos fueran matados de diferente manera.

6. Many owners said, No! Sal si puedes. (Leave if you can.)
6. Muchos granjeros dijeron, No! Sal si puedes.

7. César asked the workers to leave the fields. He asked the families not to buy lettuce and grapes.
7. César pidió a los trabajadores salirse de los campos. El pidió a las familias no comprar lechugas y uvas.

8. Workers marched peacefully with signs and flags, sang and talked. They chanted ¡Sí se puede! Yes we can!
8. Los trabajadores marcharon pacíficamente con letreros y banderas, cantaban y hablaban. Gritaban, ¡Si se puede! ¡Si se puede!

9. César helped the workers win many changes. ¡Sí se puede! (Yes we can!)
9. César ayudó a los trabajadores a ganar algunos cambios. ¡Sí se puede!

10. Before César E. Chávez died, he still asked for changes to help the workers.
10. Antes que César E. Chávez muriera, él continuaba pidiendo los cambios para ayudar a los trabajadores.

11. His family continues to ask that field workers gain deserved respect and work in a safe environment. ¡Sí se puede! (Yes we can!)
11. La familia continúa pidiendo que los trabajadores del campo reciben el respeto merecido, y trabajan en un ambiente seguro. ¡Sí se puede!

12. César helped all of us.
12. César ayudó a todos nosotros.



The Cesar E. Chavez Branch Library, formerly The Latin American Library Branch, was founded in 1966. It was one of the first public libraries in the United States to offer services and materials in Spanish. The branch opened at its current site in the Fruitvale Transit Village in February 2004. The Cesar E. Chavez Branch is fully bilingual offering information services and collections in Spanish and English.

Chavez branch has approximately 56,000 books, compact disks, videos, DVD's, audio books, audiocassettes, and magazines and newspapers for all ages. Our Spanish language collection is the largest of the system, with 11,500 circulating Spanish items. Also, of popular interest is our Chicano reference and circulating collection. Chavez also has a small Vietnamese collection with 750 items. Finally, Chavez offers a popular Children's section and a growing teen collection.



Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library:

Welcome to Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library homepage. Through this site you will find a vast array of information available at and through your public library.

You may access to the Library's on-line catalog of materials as well as to information about the Chavez Central Library, the twelve branch libraries, the Mobile Library and literacy services. You can also use databases, lists of bestsellers, or web guides on specific topics. Links include connections to a variety of Web sites that offer information about Stockton and other San Joaquin County resources, services and events.

The Library also offers access to many reference materials in electronic format - dictionaries, encyclopedias, directories - and to specialized subscription services such as full-text newspapers and magazines, biography resources, etc. The Internet For Kids and Teen Links selections are links to sites especially selected to meet the interests and needs of young people.

Libraries have always been regarded as repositories of knowledge. More recently, libraries have taken a more active role as disseminators of knowledge. The Web site is a tool that helps you reach and access your information needs no matter where you are. To that end, Library cardholders can access from home many of the licensed subscriptions that could be seen previously only in the Library.

A fifth grade student in Stockton once described his library as an "imagination station" that lets him journey near and far to places real or fantastic. We hope that these pages will provide a friendly and helpful guide to another exciting journey of intellectual exploration, whether for information, for education, or for just plain fun. Enjoy!

The Cesar Chavez Central Library maintains large, fully cataloged collections of books, periodicals, music CDs, DVDs, books on tape, books on CD, cassettes and videos in Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese and is building book collections in Hmong, Khmer, Lao, and Philippine languages. The Central Library also has a large, cataloged collection of Japanese books.

The Central Children's Section supports book collections in all of the above languages. All nine branch libraries in the system and the Bookmobile have Spanish language collections of varying sizes; the largest are maintained at the Maya Angelou Southeast Library/Biblioteca, the Fair Oaks Branch Library and the Tracy Branch Library. The M. K. Troke Library also has collections of Chinese and Vietnamese language books. The Library catalog has a PowerSearch feature with a language option that focuses a search to materials in any of the above languages.


Sean Cruz writes Blogolitical Sean:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cesar Chavez Boulevard: Will they get it right this time?

Portland, Oregon--

On this beautiful summer day in Portland, we could be relaxing at Cesar E. Chavez Park, or reading at Multnomah County’s Cesar E. Chavez branch library, or some lucky families might be preparing their children for study at the Cesar E. Chavez school, and there would be some peace in the land.

But none of that is happening.

Instead, the City and the larger community are about to begin Round Two, and with the same set of flawed assumptions that characterized Round One, beginning with the assumption that the only “acceptable” way to honor this great man is with a stretch of asphalt and some street signs.

The Committee-Once-Bent-on-Renaming-Interstate and a handful of political insiders have utterly co-opted the name of Cesar Chavez in the City of Portland. I have no idea how they came to own the franchise, particularly those who are neither Mexican American or farm workers or their descendants.

They say that they are the only game in town, in the Cesar Chavez honoring department, and woe to those who disagree….

The park, the library, the school…all were ruled out by a distinctly un-public process that featured (and still features) a Committee that has never announced who its members are, and vota-seeking white politicians.

Before I get into commenting further on present-day Portland, in the tradition of Teachable Moments and in the interest of promoting a broader understanding of the issues, I want to go back in time, waaay back, to 1994, when the Metropolitan Human Rights Commission, serving the citizens of the City of Portland and Multnomah County, published a large-format poster of Cesar Chavez, with text in English and Spanish.

The English text appears thusly:

Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American (emphasis added) whose experience as a migrant agricultural worker led him to form the United Farmworkers Union to improve their living and working standards. His philosophy of non-violence, community organizing and economic action was the basis for success in negotiating contracts and recognition of the rights of farm workers.”

Cesar Chavez quotes from the poster:

“All my staff, myself, even my attorneys receive compensation of room and board and $10 a week. You really can’t help poor people unless you are willing to live at their level and feel their pain.

“These men, women and children who are faceless, numberless, so many times are the ones who produce the food and yet go home hungry.

“I am convinced that the truest act of courage, the strongest act of humanity, is to sacrifice ourselves for others in a totally non-violent struggle for justice.

“All of my life I have been driven by one dream, one goal, one vision, to improve the conditions of farm workers and create a lasting environment of justice.

“You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress people who are not afraid of anyone.”

Source: Metropolitan Human Rights Commission (for City of Portland and Multnomah County) poster, ca 1994.

This poster has hung either in my home or office since 1996, the year I moved into Portland. It hung in Senator Avel Gordly’s Senate District office since 2003.

It currently hangs in my Rockwood office, where as an Employment Specialist for the Oregon Human Development Corporation, I find new, full-time jobs for farm workers, helping them transition from seasonal or migrant work, acquiring new skill sets and better opportunities to support their families.

Most of our clients are Mexican or Mexican American, like Cesar Chavez, like me. They are hard-working, reliable and solid citizens regardless of legal status. Some have come a long way, others have lived in Oregon much of their lives.

Cesar Chavez and I are also both Chicanos, a subgroup of Mexican Americans. We are the warrior class. Some don’t like to hear that.

Ah, the loss of institutional knowledge, the pressures of election-year politics…the Metropolitan Human Rights Commission was housed in City Hall itself and no one remembers….

The promoters of renaming Interstate Avenue to “honor” Cesar Chavez never got the basic information on this poster right, or much else, an utter embarrassment.

Cesar Chavez was a Mexican American. One cannot both honor a man and fail to recognize either his ethnicity or the underlying source of his achievements. He was the penultimate Mexican American Chicano farm worker.

Cesar said: “All of my life I have been driven by one dream, one goal, one vision, to improve the conditions of farm workers and create a lasting environment of justice.”

I am going to suggest that the present public process consider how the City can both honor the man and support his dream, his vision, his goal: take a concrete step “to improve the conditions of farm workers and to create a lasting environment of justice.”

There is honor in that, honor all around.

If only the franchise owners hadn’t gotten the City locked into a one-dimensional rut, no imagination required….

Please demonstrate that you have, in the spirit of honoring, the courage to speak about a man who was both honorable and of Mexican ancestry.

And allow the public to suggest alternative ways to honor Cesar Chavez.

Consider these (not my ideas, and there are many others):

Cesar E. Chavez Fair Trade Farmers Market (Tom Hastings)

Cesar E. Chavez Peace Garden

Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Library

All would offer opportunities to educate the public, if that is the goal of this project, and—most importantly—could provide a basis to meld Portland with Cesar’s dream: improving the conditions of farm workers and creating a lasting environment of justice.

Si Se Puede!

Sean Cruz
August 14, 2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Cesar Chavez Boulevard in Portland, otra vez?

The good news and the bad news….

Portland, Oregon— There are stirrings once again down at City Hall about honoring Cesar Chavez by renaming a Portland street for the Mexican American, Chicano hero.

That’s the good news…and that there will be an actual public process this time around.

The bad news is that—like the last time—they are beginning this “public process” on a base of false assumptions, and without a sense of who Cesar Chavez was.

Consider the following:

1. Why is the public process to honor Cesar Chavez beginning with an assumption that only a street renaming is a suitable honor? Where was the public process that ruled out schools, parks, libraries and other public buildings for consideration?

2. How did the two co-chairs of the Committee-Once-Bent-On-Renaming-Interstate-Avenue win sole Portland honoring rights in matters Cesar Chavez?

3. How does a committee whose membership has never been announced gain such power and influence (and maybe $150 grand) at City Hall? Who are they? Only the two co-chairs names have ever appeared as members of the committee. Will they ever reveal the names of the Committee members?


4. This time, will the City Council and the street-renaming avenistas recognize that it was Cesar Chavez’ experience as a person of Mexican ancestry in the United States that defined him and his work? He wasn’t thrown out of the Delano movie theater and arrested because he was an American; Cesar suffered discrimination because of his brown skin, because he was specifically Mexican, a Mexican farm worker. The part about being a civil rights leader came much later.

5. Will the Committee-Once-Bent-On-Renaming-Interstate-Avenue be any less pig-headed than before? The City Council may want to consider broadening its outreach beyond the handful of usual suspects that claim to represent “the” Latino or Hispanic “community.”

6. Will State Representative Jackie Dingfelder, the only legislator to support renaming Interstate Avenue despite the fact that the street is not in her district, in a white-hot vota-seeking campaign flop-sweat heat, continue to pander for votes?

Here’s the link: http://www.cesarechavezboulevard.com/letters.pdf

I'm not opposed to renaming a street or public thoroughfare to honor Cesar Chavez or anyone else similarly significant, but I reject the notion that anything other than a street renaming is dishonorable or disrespectful or simply not good enough.

Hundreds of communities across the nation have found ways to honor Cesar Chavez and educate a public that poorly understands his accomplishments. These examples are easily searchable, and not so needlessly divisive as the Portland model.

To "begin" this process as a discussion about which street to rename locks the community into discord and drastically reduces our opportunity to craft a creative approach to honor Cesar Chavez in Portland.

I have written extensively on this issue in previous Blogolitical Sean posts, and have taken a fair amount of criticism for my position. Many of the Avenistas supported my opponent, State Representative Jackie Dingfelder, in the May 20 Democratic primary, selling their votes for a letter endorsing the renaming of Interstate Avenue.

I'll be writing more about this later. I feel some Teachable Moments coming again. Stay tuned.

July 28, 2008