What's in a Nombre?

Diversity be damned. You want to rename Industrial Boulevard, it better "market" the city.

One of the names nominated for the renaming of Industrial Boulevard recently was Stanley Marcus Boulevard. Walk a quarter-mile in my shoes on this, will you?

Marcus' name was one of several put forward by the public in a recent competition run by City Hall to find a new name for Industrial, which runs the length of the city's vaunted and long-awaited Trinity River Project.

Why rename Industrial? It's all part of trying to create a new image and style for an area that City Hall hopes to transform from salvage yards to silk stockings.

César Chávez did not earn his name or his place in history by seeking "accommodation."
César Chávez did not earn his name or his place in history by seeking "accommodation."

Now, for the sake of argument, pretend that the electronic poll results had come in overwhelmingly in favor of renaming this hard-bitten back alley of a street after the late Mr. Marcus, who was a prince of the city and a leader in the Jewish community.

Now imagine with me that the mayor and virtually all of the non-Jewish members of the council had said, "Oops, sorry, we have a problem with that. We really don't think the name Stanley Marcus would give us quite the image we're going for."

You know, there might have been one of those embarrassing pregnant pauses while everybody stared down at their hands, the way we are all wont to do sometimes when ethnic mischief is afoot. And then the mayor might have said, "We're going to have to rethink this whole new-name poll idea."

What do you suppose would have been the response to that?

Try the shoe on another foot. Suppose the poll results had come in overwhelmingly in favor of naming it after Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, perhaps the city's most powerful representative in Washington and a revered icon in the black community. Her name was on the list too.

And then pretend that Mayor Tom Leppert and all of the white and Latino council members had started hemming and hawing and trading silly little grins with each other. And then maybe Leppert might have said he really thought we needed a different name, one "that markets the Trinity project."

You know. Like the name "Eddie Bernice" might sort of un-market the area. What do you think the response would have been?

Because that's exactly what the mayor said when he was explaining why he thought the city council should toss out the real poll results and not name it César Chávez Boulevard. Leppert said he didn't think that was a name that would "market" the area.

Can we speak frankly to each other? Sure. I think we can. Why would the name César Chávez un-market the area? Or just not market the area?

Because it's Mexican.

We can admit that to each other, right?

At the end of April the city carried out an elaborate process for soliciting public input on new names for Industrial, culminating in a day-long Internet and telephone vote. The name César Chávez came in with way more votes than any of the others. It won 52 percent of the total. The next runner-up, Riverfront Boulevard, won less than 20 percent.

Is there any upside—any conceivable positive value—in naming it after Chávez, who died in 1993? How long have you got? He was a cofounder of the United Farm Workers, a champion of Mexican-American and migrant rights in Texas and all over the United States.

I remember the first time I realized César Chávez was the name of the waterfront boulevard along a principal stretch of shoreline on Town Lake in downtown Austin. I don't know that I rolled down the car window and made a speech or anything, but my heart flew up a bit. I thought, "Oh, yeah, this is Austin, and Austin is cool, so Austin is proud of its diversity."

Leppert is ashamed of our diversity. Dallas City Councilman David Neumann, who joined him in this snub, is ashamed of our diversity. None of that surprises me. Here is what puzzles: What the hell happened to the city's Latino leadership?

I can tell you what the Jewish community would have done. You know how the black community would have reacted. Another name on the list was Stevie Ray Vaughan, the late blues-rock legend from Oak Cliff. We don't even want to think about what would have happened if the mayor had suggested that, perhaps, well, you know, snicker, some of these vaguely hillbilly-sounding native Texan names might be bad for the area's image.

Granny, git yer gun.

So where the hell are the Mexicans?

I spoke at some length with Alberto Ruiz, one of the organizers of a coalition formed to deal specifically with the César Chávez question. Ruiz has been involved in extensive negotiations with members of the city council, especially Dr. Elba Garcia. I asked him what his impression was of the mayor and council's reasons for ignoring the poll.

"They didn't like the results," he said.

Why didn't they like the results? What did they tell him?

"The reasons were that the investors and the developers involved in the future development of this whole area that's going to be around what is Industrial Boulevard today were not buying into this name, César Chávez," Ruiz said. "They didn't want it. The city council members didn't want to go to them and say, 'You're going to get it anyway.' It's age-old politics. It's dollars and cents."

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