[¡Ask a Mexican!] Cesar Chavez's Street Cred

Special Martin Luther King Jr. Edition

 

Dear Mexican: What is it with Cesar Chavez? Recently, in Dallas, we’ve gone through three attempts to name streets after Mr. Chavez. In one instance, the plan was to remove from a street the name of two brothers who were city founders to rename it Cesar Chavez Avenue. This is being touted under the banner of “recognizing the contribution of Latino culture” and “necessary so that we can feel we are respected in this city.”

I’ve seen streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King and Mr. Chavez in places that didn’t even exist when they were alive. All in the name of “recognizing the contribution of [insert ethnic group here].” Just like Wal-Mart and chain restaurants, it is leading to a homogenization of our culture, so every region and town looks like every other region and town. This totally ignores the contributions of the local people who REALLY contributed to the LOCAL culture or its founding. Mr. Chavez was critical to the farm-worker movement in South Texas. He was unquestionably a great American, but what is the fascination with him? Is he the only Latino who has ever done anything noteworthy?

Vida en Una Cultura Genérica

Dear Life in a Generic Culture: Your pregunta, while valid, contains some of the most ignorant observations the Mexican has seen from a reader since the guy who wondered why Mexicans like spicy food (same reason that Japanese like fish: People eat what’s around them). And you’re obviously not a regular reader: Last year, I offered a list of noteworthy things Mexican that included Salma Hayek’s breasts and the guy who co-created the birth-control pill.

Primeramente, a bit of background for non-Dallas readers: Last summer, city officials sponsored a poll asking residents to suggest a new name for Industrial Boulevard, a stretch of asphalt that runs through an area that Big D wants to purty-up. The winner, by an overwhelming margin? Chavez. Politicians summarily ignored the results, but then offered to rename Ross Avenue after the labor leader. Businesses and old-timers got upset—the former, because of the costs associated with a name change, the latter because Ross was named after two pioneer hermanos (one of whom, I might add, was a Confederate; pardon this unassimilated Mexican, but why would good Americans still want to honor a soldier of the Stars and Bars?). So far, there is no Dallas street named for Chavez, but there are bad feelings all around.

The opposition’s stated rationale whenever this naming controversy arises anywhere in los Estados Unidos is similar to yours, Generic Culture: Chavez had few ties to [insert city or town here], so why honor him? Besides the fact Chavez did organize quite mucho in Dallas, such reasoning is laughable. The Mexican doesn’t lionize Chavez the way others do (as I’ve stated in this column, he hated illegals and was a bit ethnocentric early in his career), but his efforts did have a lasting impact on the American dinner table, unless you grow and harvest your own comida. Local heroes are fine and all, but Americans also need national figures around whom we can mythologize—it’s a necessary component of nationalism. That’s why schools and streets across the country get named after Clara Barton, Betsy Ross, Jonas Salk and other non-presidential people even if they never set foot in a particular region, and heaven forbid coloreds want in on the action! After all, it’s not like Mexicans are asking their gabacho overlords to start renaming regional landmarks after Pancho Villa—yet. . . .

Dear Mexican: If white people are allowed to dress like Mexicans for Cinco de Mayo, am I, as a Mexican, allowed to dress in blackface for Martin Luther King Jr. Day?

The Don of Capitol Hill

Dear Wab: In your case, yes, just so the cosmos can smile when some brothers kick your pinche estúpidoass.

 

Ask the Mexican at themexican@askamexican.net or myspace.com/ocwab. Or write to him via snail mail at: Gustavo Arellano, P.O. Box 1433, Anaheim, CA 92815-1433.

 
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