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