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.


Cesar Chavez

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?

"Those answers are no. The César Chávez name brigade needs to lower its bar to a more sensible level so area Hispanics can focus on real problems."

Lower its bar? Lower its bar? I can't think how else to interpret "lower its bar" except as meaning "know their place." And Mark Davis, this white guy in the Morning News, is going to tell them what that place is.

It's astonishing to me that anyone would put forward a suggestion of this sort in print, and that the city's only local daily newspaper would print it without comment or presentation or explanation of any sort, as if this were a perfectly reasonable and intelligent expression of common sentiment.

So, look, I have a suggestion. I think it's time to amp this thing up a few notches. If Davis can tell the Mexicans to know their place—and stay in it—then I think I should have a right to revise my own views on the other side. And I am dead serious here. I believe that what I am about to suggest could happen.

In order for my suggestion to become reality, major changes would have to take place. The whole fabric of local politics would have to turn itself inside out. Latinos would have to register to vote and actually show up at the polls in numbers far more vast than the experience of the past. But as one who was present during the Half a Million March in downtown Dallas on April 9, 2006, I believe that these changes may even be under way already.

I propose that we change the name of the city from Dallas, Texas, to César Chávez, Texas.

Now, wait a minute. Don't start getting all helter-skelter on me. If you can get your breathing under control and give this idea just a moment or two of reasonable consideration, you will see what a wonderful thing it could be for the future of our fair city.

Who are we named for now? We don't even know. Presumably we are named for some rum-soaked, raccoon-wearing, frog-gigging denizen of the 19th century wilderness. César Chávez was actually a great man, someone whose life and accomplishments we know well and in detail.

His name, because it is Mexican, would be emblematic of the enormous contribution to and improvement of our community rendered by the influx of immigrants from Mexico in the last half-century. Think about it.

These are hard-working, family-centered, ambitious people, courageous enough to leave all that they know and venture into a strange and hostile land in order to provide better lives for their children. We have Anglos in this city of all social stripes, up and down, who wake up in the morning and can't even remember that they have children until their second cup of coffee. How can we not be better off for having more Mexicans?

Think of the fanfare for César Chávez, Texas, if this happened. Imagine what the world will think when all of the other contingent name changes begin inevitably to fall into place: Audiences around the world will thrill to the sounds of the excellent César Chávez Civic Orchestra. Critics will rave about exciting new exhibitions at the César Chávez Museum of Art.

Much of the unfortunate baggage that has plagued this city's current name for so long will fall by the wayside. I speak of the president whose last name began with a K, not to reopen a wound or anything. This would be clean break.

The truth is that Dallas has never been a city of tradition. The great strength of this city has always been its forward movement. This has always been a place where people come to shed their pasts and make a fresh start. That's what's cool about Dallas. You are what you say you are. Well, that and what you've got in your pocket.

When the suggestion was made to rename Ross Avenue after César Chávez, some of the bloggers complained that we must not dishonor the Ross Brothers for whom it is named now. I laugh out loud every time I read one of those comments.

The who brothers?

César Chávez really is somebody. He stands for the courage and dignity of humankind digging its way up from penury to a better life and a better world for children. He really is a hero.

Think of the attention we would get all over the world. "Dallas Renamed César Chávez, Texas." There isn't a newspaper in any language in any country that would not put that headline on page one.

And even if we don't get there, even if it's too big a bite, I hope that making the suggestion will at least help point people in the right direction. You don't take a thing like "know your place" sitting down in this country. You push back that much harder, demand that much more, make that much more trouble. It's what makes this a great country.

Man! Think of it. The most famous sports team on Earth will be the César Chávez Cowboys!

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