Livin’ la vida genérica
Recently in Dallas, we’ve gone through three attempts to name streets after Cesar Chavez. In one instance, the plan was to remove the name of two brothers who were city founders from a street and 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 Jr. 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 alike. 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 farmworker 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 GenéricaDear 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 why Japanese like fish: People eat what’s around them). And you’re obviously not a regular reader, as I listed last year a list of noteworthy Mexicans that included the guy who co-created the birth-control pill, and Salma Hayek’s breasts.
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, whom I might add, was a Confederate; pardon this unassimilated Mexican, but why would good Americans continue to want to honor a soldier of the Stars and Bars?). So far, no Dallas street named for Chavez, and 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 son 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 nonpresidential people even if they never stepped 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.
If white people are allowed to dress like Mexicans for Cinco de Mayo, as a Mexican, am I allowed to dress up in blackface for Martin Luther King Jr. Day?
—The Don of Capitol HillDear Wab:
In your case, yes, just so the cosmos can smile when some brothers kick your pinche estúpido ass.