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Monday, October 08, 2007

A word on Cesar Chavez, renaming Interstate and more....

I am as eager as anyone to see Portland create a permanent, physical presence honoring Cesar Chavez, but I confess that I am confounded by the flawed process more than I am angered by the racist taunts.

Growing up Mexican-American in California, the son and grandson of farm workers, I learned early on that many Americans do not like foreigners, that many do not like Mexicans in particular and, lastly, that most do not distinguish whether your presence is legal or not.

They don’t like you either way, and they will make that point clear.

But I’m not going to give into the racism diversion in the public argument about renaming Interstate; it comes with the territory.

I want to speak to the flawed process on several points:

First, the Cesar Chavez Committee consists of some of my own local personal heroes, so far as I know, because even at this late stage I’ve never seen a list of committee members.

Marta, Jose, Sonny, Armando –you each have inspired me for more than a decade with your giant hearts for la comunidad, and I share your passion for Cesar…but I did not become aware of your effort until after you had already locked in on Interstate.

If I have left out any names among my local heroes who are serving on the Committee, it is because I do not know who all the members are.

Secondly, the residents of North Portland have felt left out and unheard for many years over a great many issues, and I can understand how the Interstate Max line and the development associated with it would arouse passions that have little to do with race.

Third, the Committee appears to have passed on considering renaming Killingsworth as an option, because the Committee felt it was named after a historical person.

To this point I would say that becoming deceased does not make a person “historical.”

Fourth, you must own the flaws in your process. It is not enough to point to another flawed process and demand the same. There is no moral leverage in that. Please do not compound the flaw by refusing to listen objectively, by refusing to be open to compromise.

You already have the victory, the Mayor and City Council have voted unanimously to honor Cesar Chavez in a significant, permanent way, but you do not own the moral high ground.

Fifth. to my thinking, Killingsworth would be an obvious choice for a broader public discussion, and I believe that you could probably get the 2,500 signatures that the City charter requires from people that live, work or frequently travel on that street itself.

Sixth, Killingsworth is full of low-hanging fruit:

Villa de Clara Vista, Hacienda Salon de Communidad, Aero Vista Apartmentos, Clara Vista Townhomes, Villa de Suenos, Multnomah County’s La Clinica de Buen Salud, the Baltazar Ortiz Community Center, the Villa de Clara Vista Oficina de Administracion, Villa de Suenos, Los Jardines de La Paz, Taqueria Mendoza, Trinity Lutheran Church (with its multiracial signage “Your Child Deserves the Best”), Villas de Mariposas North, Villa de Mariposas South, Portland Metropolitan Workforce Training Center….

Several retail establishments on the street sell Corona Extra openly.

At the corner of NE 42nd and Killingsworth, one finds banners hanging, reading “Color de la Comunidad” and “NE 42nd Business Community,” and several businesses: Ole Frijole Delicious Mexican Food, Taqueria Oaxaca, Novedades Santo Domingo.

Have you discussed the issue with the NE 42nd folks?

At 33rd and Killingsworth is the New Seasons store.

At 30th and Killingsworth are Milagros and Autentica Mexican Food.

The list goes on, the point is that there is much low-hanging fruit here and I wonder if the Committee actually ever contacted residents and businesses on the street. I have no idea, and that points again to the flawed process.

Seventh, TriMet could play an important role here and participate in the discussion. The # 72, Portland’s busiest route, traverses the length of 82nd and much of Killingsworth, and I can see the appeal of putting some paint on those buses and promoting the 82nd Avenue of the Roses/Cesar Chavez Boulevard route.

Eighth, there is only one business on Killingsworth that uses the street name in its business name, indicating the low appeal to the business community.

My last point on this post is one of puzzlement:

Hacienda CDC owns much of the low hanging fruit on Killingsworth, and I both wonder why they haven’t championed renaming that street (why it isn’t already renamed). and why Bertha Ferran of the Hacienda CDC Board of Directors was at the Ockley Green meeting, supporting the renaming of Interstate and chiding local residents not to be so resistant to change.

I’d rather hear her say why she doesn’t support renaming Killingsworth. Sure beats me.

Viva Cesar Chavez!

Sean Cruz
October 8, 2007


Felicia Williams said...

You make many valid points in your posting. I do disagree with you about race being a fator. It seems obvious that race is a central issue as people focus on Cesar Chavez's Mexican heritage rather than on his American heritage and it is unfortunate that people won't support renaming a street anywhere except in a neighborhood with a strong Latino presence. Isn't that trivializing his legacy? Doesn't that imply that his hero status is only really important to those who share his ethnic heritage? Why can't he be honored in any neighborhood? Why not downtown Portland? As an American, I feel he should be added to the pantheon of great American leaders and his life's work is certainly more significant than that of most of our U.S. presidents. I think it's time to bring people out of the wings and place them front and center in American history, regardless of their ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or religion. But, if people want Killingsworth and it's easier than Interstate or downtown streets, I will support that, too.

sean cruz said...


thanks for your comment. You ask a lot of questions! I don't think I know many people who do not have a strong positive or affirmative connection to Cesar Chavez in one way or another. And I don't know how to go about trivializing his legacy. His legacy is what it is regardless of whether this person or that person doesn't like it.

In an earlier posting I described Cesar Chavez as "an American hero."

And he's a Mexican-American hero, too.

Thanks for writing. I appreciate your comments.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sean,

I'm bicultural and bilingual as well, except my "nombre remendado" is turned around, my first name is José and my last is an Anglo one (well, a truncated version of a Flemish one, but whatever). My mom is from El Salvador and my dad from a rural Eastern Oregon background (family farm).
Anyway, I'm very much in agreement with your points, but also agree with Felicia that, say, Broadway would work too, and that Chávez legacy was not just for Latino-americans but for all Americans. I'm a NoPo resident since 10 years back. What angers me about the Mayor and the renaming committee is their utter inflexibility about possibly going with another street or another part of town. They're creating a lot of resentment by labeling anyone who's not on board with their process so far as racist or reactionary. What if we like the name Interstate and appreciate its historic significance, and we don't like the way the process has been handled so far? Anyway, thanks for being open yourself to another possibility, even one in North Portland (and Northeast). Too bad the Chávez Committee and the Mayor are only open-minded as long as you agree with them in every detail.

sean cruz said...

Cesar Chavez and his people suffered discrimination and injustice because of their Mexican heritage, not because they were "Latino" or "Hispanic" or "American."

Believe me, people are real specific about who and what they hate. You don't hear "go back to Chile", or "go back to Guatemala", not even "go back to Cuba."

People are very specific, and they make little distinction between Mexican American and Mexican.

So when people here in Portland say they want to "honor" Cesar Chavez as a "Latino", or as a "Hispanic", or as an "American" hero, it rings false to me.

In California, in the Southwest, people aren't so confused about Cesar Chavez' ethnicity.

He's a Mexican American hero, a Chicano hero.

Calling him an "American", as in a "real American" as opposed to the Mexican American he actually was is no way to pay him honor.

He was always an American, that pretty much goes without saying.

He was thrown out of the redneck movie theater because of his brown Mexican American skin, not because he was an American.

He was put in jail because of his Mexican American, his Chicano voice, not because he was "Latino" or "Hispanic." Certainly not because he was seen as an American.

People didn't care at all about that part, they looked at Cesar and saw Mexico.

Cesar Chavez was as real as a Mexican American, a person whose parentage stems from Mexico, can be.

So why not call him what he was.

"Latino" and "Hispanic" are terms that the Census Bureau came up with.

These bland labels do not speak to the blood and sacrifice that Mexican Americans--specifically Mexican Americans--have given and continue to give to this nation.

So when someone wants to stand up and make a speech about Cesar Chavez, I say call him what he was, a hero, a Mexican American hero.

As for Interstate, driving up from the south end, the first place you find that might suggest Mexican American heritage is the Taco Bell at Going. That appears to work for some, but to me it's more like an insult.

And I don't see how it's a benefit to the Portland community of Mexican Americans and their businesses.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has had nothing at all to say about this issue so far, one way or the other.

That's another part of the discussion I don't quite get, the missing part.

FYI, I'm not stuck on Killingsworth, but I see the possibilities there.

As a Mexican American, a Chicano,I would have liked to have the opportunity to welcome my Mexican American Chicano hero to my East Portland neighborhood (East of I-205).

Even if I stood alone on the invitation, I would have appreciated the opportunity to have the discussion.

As an American citizen, that is my right.