Ask a Mexican: Render Unto César
Dear Mexican: What is it with César Chávez? Recently in Dallas, we went through three attempts to name streets after him. In one instance, the plan was to remove the names of two brothers who were city founders from a street named after them, and rename the street "César Chávez Avenue." I've seen streets named after Dr. Martin Luther King and Mr. Chávez in places that didn't even exist when the two men 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. Mr. Chávez 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 why Japanese like fish: People eat what's around them). And you're obviously not a regular reader, as, last year, I printed 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? Chávez. 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 who, 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: There's no Dallas street named for Chávez, and 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: Chávez had few ties to (insert city or town here), so why honor him? Besides the fact that Chávez did organize quite mucho in Dallas, such reasoning is laughable. The Mexican doesn't lionize Chávez 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 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 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 Hill
Dear Wab: In your case, yes, just so the cosmos can smile when some brothers kick your pinche estúpido ass.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.