What's in a Nombre?

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

Sure. I get all that. What I don't get is why most of the leadership of the Mexican-American community in Dallas has elected to eat it. Well, I say I don't get it. But I do. It's just that I wish I didn't.

When the question came to the city council committee responsible for making a recommendation to the full council, the three Latino members all folded. Pauline Medrano and Steve Salazar joined Mayor Pro Tem Elba Garcia in agreeing to postpone the committee's decision until August 5.

Meanwhile, an effort has been launched by Ruiz and others to shift the focus to renaming Ross Avenue after César Chávez.

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

I think I know why Garcia folded. She wants to run for county judge. She has spent the last two years kissing up to the Dallas Citizens Council and Mayor Leppert on the whole Trinity River Project issue. Why throw away the big money right now when she needs it, just for a street name? I tried to reach Garcia but didn't hear back.

Salazar, who represents District 6 in far West Dallas, told me the Latino members of the Trinity River committee voted to delay a vote on the name César Chávez because, "We didn't have the votes."

I asked, "Why not make the white folks vote against it? Why not draw the line?"

He said, "They have no problem doing that. They're going to do it." Salazar told me he and Garcia believed that giving up on Industrial and going for Ross Avenue was the best way to split the rug. "If we could get an accommodation to an even more significant street, and we could get the votes on the council, then we should definitely do that."

Sure. But, you know, that word, accommodation, has sort of a bad history in Dallas.

I spoke with Ray de los Santos, District 3 director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, about the idea of moving the Chavez name to Ross Avenue. He had lots of good reasons for it. De los Santos has been active in the same coalition of which Ruiz is a member.

"Throughout César Chávez's history," de los Santos said, "in all his endeavors, he led them off by asking the blessing of the Virgin of Guadalupe. And the Guadalupe Cathedral just happens to sit right on Ross Avenue.

"We looked at the fact that the Dallas Independent School District has named a campus the César Chávez Learning Center, which happens to be on Ross Avenue."

Actually César Chávez Learning Center's address is 1710 N. Carroll Ave., but one side of the property does abut Ross Avenue.

"For many in the Latino community," de los Santos said, "the most important institutions are the church and the school. The school district's headquarters is at 3700 Ross Ave."

Yeah, the connections are just building and building.

But I still have a question. Why aren't the Mexican-Americans on the council and the Mexican-American leadership at large connected to some cojones?

The behavior of the mayor and of council member Neumann on this question has been just completely outrageous. They should have said, "The votes are in. The people have spoken. We think the name César Chávez will do wonders for the area and for the city of Dallas at large, helping to dispel the widely held belief that we are a bunch of uptight racist hicks who want to rename everything in our city so it will sound more like a suburban subdivision."

I am hearing a lot of resistance to the renaming of Ross Avenue. Ross presents a whole new set of problems, because it runs into East Dallas, and East Dallas tends to be oppositional toward everything from City Hall.

East Dallas can be less than brilliant, I admit. One objection I have heard is that renaming Ross Avenue would be disrespectful of the legacy of the Ross Brothers. At first I thought, "I wonder if they still make their cough drops?" But those were the Smith Brothers.

I find myself thinking this: The city must learn an important lesson here. A city whose soul is determined by real estate developers has no soul. Look at the suburbs.

César Chávez is a cool name. César Chávez would make the Trinity River district look better, not worse. But this is about more than a name. That's why an accommodation is exactly the wrong way to go.

The mayor and councilman Neumann need to take back their remarks and apologize, because their remarks show disrespect. A city that doesn't respect its own diversity will never be cool, no matter what names it gives to itself.

Somebody will have to make that happen. Sadly, the people who should be toe-to-toe about this are hat-in-hand instead. Nothing good can come of that.

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