César Chávez, Texas

You may or may not read blogs. I'm not sure which way to advise you. Some local politics, news and sports blogs do provide a better window on the city than what you get from mainstream media. But you may need to keep a clothespin handy for your nose. For example, a very nasty sewer-smell has been seeping up from the blogs recently in the matter of the César Chávez street renaming.

Maybe you might want to close the window.

This concerns the proposed rechristening of Industrial Boulevard, the street that runs along the river downtown. It's all a typically goofy real estate thing. Somebody wants to make Industrial Boulevard sound fancier, in order to encourage fancy development along the river.

The City of Dallas held a kind of public electronic election in early June in which people were invited to vote on a list of suggested names. The votes came in overwhelmingly in favor of the late César Chávez, who founded the United Farm Workers union in 1962.

His name was on the list. The question raised by the list was this: Do you think César Chávez Boulevard sounds fancier or better than Industrial Boulevard or Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson Boulevard or Riverfront Boulevard or any of the other suggestions? By far the biggest number of respondents voted for César Chávez. Asked and answered.

Why would that be? Well, the poll may not have been as well-run as it could have been. Interested parties could have easily jammed it. Then again, almost 30 percent of the city's population now consists of people of Mexican heritage. If you lump all Latinos together they make up more like 36 percent of the populace.

Latinos did fill the streets of Dallas with half a million marchers two years ago—the biggest demonstration in the history of the city. That has to mean something.

But as soon as the votes were counted, Mayor Tom Leppert and West Dallas council member David Neumann said the city could not and would not rename Industrial for Chávez. Election be damned. The debate since then has been why. There has also been spirited discussion of whether some other thoroughfare should be named for César Chávez as a consolation prize.

Many of the comments on the Dallas Observer blog, Unfair Park, have been straight-up racist and vile. One commenter asked, "Why don't we just rename the city of Dallas 'Puffy Taco City'? That should make everyone happy."

The comments on the D magazine blog, Frontburner, have been worse:

"Great! Now I know where to pick up all the day laborers!"

I wrote a column about this ("What's in a Nombre?" July 31), suggesting that César Chávez would be a fine street name somewhere in the city—a plus, an emblem of the city's sophistication and pluralism. I was going to leave it at that.

But that was before I read an August 20 Op-Ed piece in The Dallas Morning News by radio talk-show person and Morning News commentator Mark Davis. Davis wrote about the compromise suggestions, in particular the idea of giving Chávez's name to Ross Avenue, a major thoroughfare in East Dallas, or to the Dallas North Tollway, which runs from the northwest corner of downtown up through an affluent white sector of the city.

Davis' main point seemed to be that Mexicans, while a presence in the community, just aren't a big enough or valuable enough presence to merit having anything as big or valuable as Ross Avenue or the tollway named for them.

"The fact is," Davis wrote, "that César Chávez in no way meets the standard for earning a major existing Dallas street name."

Davis didn't say what the standard might be. His very elliptical version of local history slipped right by the fact that the city, itself, is named for an unknown friend of the city's scrofulous, possum-eating 19th-century founder. How high can the standard be?

Even more compressed was Davis' description of national history: "But the definitive drama in America's minority history is not Hispanic, Asian or even American Indian. It is African-American. There is no Latino Martin Luther King Jr., no Asian or Indian Malcolm X."

Tell that to Chief Pontiac. Or Geronimo. I think Davis may have missed a couple days of school. What about the Asians who served as near-slave labor on the railroads and then rose to own Northern California? I guess Davis didn't hear about the Jews.

I wonder what his genealogy might be. Someone forgot to teach him about the eras of American history when Germans, the Irish and Scandinavians were believed to be less than fully human.

This was his windup: "But a signature boulevard that will be the showplace of downtown? A perfectly good existing street like Ross Avenue? Or, the most recent absurdity courtesy of City Plan Commissioner Neil Emmons, the Dallas North Tollway?

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze