Thursday, July 09, 2009

Should 39th Become Cesar Chavez Blvd in Portland? Interview on the Mark and Dave show (1190 KEX AM)

(Cesar Chavez Street in Austin, Texas. By Larry Miller via Flickr)

I was interviewed on the Mark and Dave Show on 1190 KEX Am News radio yesterday about the legacy of Cesar Chavez. You can listen in here (the show plays during rush hour from 4-7pm. My interview is during the last hour, about 3/4 of the way through the podcast)

Yesterday, the Portland City Council voted to rename 39th Avenue after Cesar Chavez. Seems like there is a very big political controversy over this. For the past few years, the City Council has made missteps in trying to get a street named for Chavez, angering various groups in the process.

As I said in the interview, I think its appropriate that a major city on the West Coast do something to honor Chavez (especially considering how much agriculture is part of the Oregon economy!) I don't really have an opinion as to whether a street is the best way to do that.

What I think is unfortunate is how the issue of the street becomes one of recognizing Latino/a contributions to the city ( some of the mayor's remarks suggest that this is a way of honoring Latino/a history in Portland). This reinforces the idea that Chavez was an ethnic leader most of all. Chavez always pointed out that the farmworker movement, and the United Farm Workers in particular, was multi-racial. In fact, the first big strike by the farmworkers was organized by Mexican and Filipino workers (led by Larry Itilong). Here is Itilong, alongside United Auto Worker labor leader Walter Reuther, and Chavez:

Personally, I think it would be great if Portland had a public school named after Chavez. Maybe one of the Portland Community College branches? How about a work center for day laborers in NE so they they could have a place to meet, instead of having to stand around the street corners off Burnside? Maybe one that could offer legal advice, provide child care, and even English classes for free? Something that could make a real tangible difference in the quality of worker's lives would truly honor Chavez's legacy.

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At 10:43 AM , Anonymous Lilia said...

Renaming streets is an important step, but I agree with you that we need more useful civic and social markers than streets and statutes. José Antonio Burciaga, when working on the Last Supper mural for Casa Zapata at Stanford, writes about how he asked the students to list their heroes so he could incorporate them in the mural. They listed important civil rights and revolutionary figures such as Chavez, Parks, Guevara, King, and Huerta. But, they also included their parents, relatives, teachers, and factory and farm workers who were equally significant to shaping their lives.

At 12:14 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Lilia: I think you bring up a good point that Chavez would have appreciated: honoring all those people who usually remain faceless but are part of the community and keep things going, sustaining our lives. Burciaga was a genius.

At 11:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you unfamiliar with the Portland day labor center? Or are you suggesting that it should be named after Chavez?

AFAIK they don't offer childcare or legal advice (although I am sure they could put additional funding to good use), but they do give daily English classes and twice weekly computer classes, and work on wage recovery claims. They also participate in the First Thursday (Last Wednesday?) art gallery scene.

At 1:46 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Sang: Actually, I was not aware of the program but I'm glad it exists. I think more centers like that in Latin@ neighborhoods would be a great idea (and, indeed, childcare being one of the services I think is important. Many times day labor centers focus on the needs of male workers) Thanks for the heads up on that.


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