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“Rosa Parks was a law-breaker”… and I would have to say “Si” to Cesar Chavez Blvd. in lieu of Intercourse Ave.

October 1st, 2007

“Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds.” -Laura Ingalls Wilder, author (1867-1957)

Do you live in Portland? Would you like to sign a petition in favor of renaming Interstate Ave. “Chavez Boulevard”? If so, sign here.

This is the last post I’m writing (ha! for now, anyway, I’d better make that…) about how much everyone has been fighting in my neighborhood recently. They’re all screaming, “It’s not about race!” but Internet, this is Portland.

It’s about race.

No, it’s not entirely about race. It’s also about classism, socio-economic crap, a basic lack of civility, an inability to learn from our mistakes… and race. Here is the comment I left on the Blogtown boards (Portland Mercury). The reference to “Will” is Will Crow, a neighborhood activist who has alienated himself from everyone but his wife. And I’m not sure how happy she is. Happy Reading!

Hello, Steve’s partner here, just to be above-board. Hi, Will! What’s shaking? Your angry fist? Uh, I don’t know the rest of you, but hi.

I’ve been blogging about the racial tension in my neighborhood for the last couple of weeks, it’s been a little intense and surprising, the things I’ve been hearing, the comments I’ve been reading on my blog and others, including here.

This all goes deeper than just a street name, obviously. So why is everybody so hot and nervous? To me it seems like the Hispanic community, with this particular issue, is asking, “Are we accepted here?” and the whites are screaming, “No!” and throwing shit. I mean, literally, shit.

Freedom of speech? A diverse neighborhood? Racial tolerance? Yeah, my ass.

I’m gathering signatures for the name change and here’s why: a mom at my kids’ school, before the Arbor Lodge meeting, was bitching at me (not to me, at me) about the name change, how much she opposes it, and told me, “They already shoved Rosa Parks down our throats, now they want Cesar Chavez, too? You’re voting no on this aren’t you? Aren’t you? Why not? YOU HAVE TO.”

Two other parents (this was prior to the Overlook meeting) were standing in front of school at arrival time, complaining loudly about the proposed name change. How dare they, they have some nerve, who are these people? etc.

Another mom, (this was on Sept. 27) told me, “Rosa Parks was a law-breaker. It was the law at that time for black people to ride on the back of the bus and she broke the law. So we named the street after someone who was a criminal.”

Then there was the whole Jefferson principal thing, “white parents not welcome.”

Yeah, it was a pretty awesome couple of weeks. It made me feel like hell. It made my stomach tense up and I didn’t know how to respond to any of it. Here’s where I stand, for the record: “I think we should not be assholes to each other.” — Wacky Mommy.

But all that aside, all I could think was how I would feel if I was a little kid, who wasn’t white, and I saw the contorted faces and the strained muscles in the necks and heard the words and how would I feel? I’d probably be thinking, “Those grown-ups really hate me and my family.”

I don’t want any kids to feel that kind of hatred, it’s shitty. It’s toxic, it’s divisive, it doesn’t help anyone feel safe and accepted. To me, it’s not what our country is supposed to be about.


  1. loves2wander says

    make sure those petitions are from within the required area. The committeee to rename did not bother with this point and are collecting signatures citywide—from thier office in Oak Grove and their listed address in Tigard.

    When somebody come in and says I’m taking what you already have, do you always just bend over and give it to them?

    October 1st, 2007 | #

  2. edj says

    Wow…you’re getting some interesting responses! I personally could not care less what my streets are named. If it makes someone feel better, more accepted, I say Go For It!

    October 1st, 2007 | #

  3. daisy says

    It is strange how people are using the argument that Interstate is some sacred name that-cannot-be-changed. I grew up in North, lived less one block off Interstate and excuse me, the Avenue was most famous for the hookers. My mom used to have to kick them off our front steps. It has gotten better, so why not a rename to celebrate?

    This is about race, and I am also talking as a North Portland resident. Cities often rename streets, as any historian can tell you. That this rename has engendered such hostility does have to do with the fact it is a Mexican name, as the comments Wacky Mommy has heard, and I have heard too. When the city changed Front Avenue to Naito Parkway we certainly didn’t get this reaction.

    I think this issue points to a larger problem, and that is the neighborhood associations, who often spearhead divisive, inflammatory issues like this when they could be spending their time on issues that matter, like our local schools. These associations have a lot of clout, so any crank who has too much time on their hands, a huge ego and the willingness to annoy everyone can find themselves in a position of political power, representing themselves and their cronies as the voices of a neighborhood….when they are not.

    It is actually a very small percentage of North Portland residents who belong to these associations and who are behind the anti-rename movement. They do not represent all of us, or, I suspect, even most of us. The majority of my neighbors are either indifferent to the name change or supportive. They don’t bother trying to have discussions with the self-proclaimed activists, because they are so hostile. On another blog Will wrote “fuck you” to one person who disagreed and then called his ideas “bullshit.” This is hardly in the spirit of an inclusive community, and it is embarassing to have someone like this present themselves as the voice of our neighborhood, especially when they are arguing against something as innocous as a street name change.

    I do think name changes are largely superficial and a hollow bone to throw, but they also don’t hurt, and if means something to someone, then hey, lets do it. Like the previous poster said, if it makes my Mexican neighbors feel more accepted then it is worth the trouble. And Chavez has a nice ring to it. Interstate is so generic.

    October 1st, 2007 | #

  4. WackyMommy says

    City of Portland sez signatures from anywhere in Portland count, not just 97217.

    me, too.

    I’m glad it’s not as wild over here anymore, especially since the Ladies have taken it online and are using cellphones and pagers to find their customers. I miss some things about the old neighborhood, though, from when I was a kid. The guys calling out to each other from across the street, and the church ladies, and people honking to say hi.

    me as a little kid: “Are they mad at each other? They’re all yelling.”
    my dad: “Naw, they’re just saying hello.”
    me, thinking: You can say hello by yelling across the street? Hmm.

    My family came out here for work (much like everyone nowadays here looking for jobs). My mom’s family came out from Arkansas; my dad’s from North Dakota. My grandpa installed draperies and worked for Goodell’s, which is still down the street on Interstate.

    My dad’s dad worked for the military shipyards, then for a paint store on… Stanton? I think; my dad, when he grew up, worked for a factory on Columbia Blvd.

    Then there was the stinky meat-packing plant (closed now), and the yummy Nabisco factory. (Still open! My sister lives close enough to it that she can smell the cookies baking.) OK enough trippin’ down memory lane.

    I just think it’s funny when newcomers fling their arms open and say, “All the history here!” I’m like, yeah, it’s something.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  5. WackyMommy says

    “Neighborhood Association,” aka oligarchy (OLI-gar-kee) noun: A government in which a few people control all power. (From my word-a-day e-mail. http://wordsmith.org/awad/index.html)

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  6. vespabelle says

    Why do these name changes have to include first names (Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Rosa Parks Street, Cesar Chavez Avenue)? Hawthorne isn’t Dr. J. C. Hawthorne Street. Naito Parkway isn’t Bill Naito Parkway.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  7. J. Lynne says

    To think there are actually people who think that racism is dead and gone…or that it’s strictly a Southern thing.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  8. megs says

    Just call it Chavez Ave…then I can make believe they are naming it after Hugo.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  9. WackyMommy says

    Just call it Che Blvd. or Emma Goldman Place and I’m all set. (Kidding!) (Or am I?)

    I think people are already saying Chavez Blvd. Our former Union (two syllables) Ave., now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.? Everyone was dithering about that, too. “It’s too long to say!” But of course we just say King (one syllable) or MLK (three syllables) so *whatever*!

    It’s raining like mad here — I hope it calms everyone down a little.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  10. WackyMommy says

    J. Lynne,
    My mom, originally from Arkansas, said she was blown away by the racism here when she moved to Portland, circa 1957. So no, it’s never been just a Southern thing.

    I’m ready for things to change for the better. Maybe that’s what we’re heading for? I hope.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  11. daisy says

    Hi Wacky

    I also love it when the newcomers, who are almost exclusively white and middle-class (who else can afford to buy homes here anymore?) talk so much about how they LOVE diversity. I had more than one come up to me, bubbling how they moved here for the diversity.

    But do they send their kids to the neighborhood schools? No way! Even bother setting their foot in the door to check one out? Small chance. Shop in a black owned business? Please. Get their nails done in one of the many Mexican owned shops? You’ve got to be kidding. Encourage their kids to make friends with the minority children? Sorry, Junior is attending a magnet school across the city, courtesy of our taxpayer dollars, and while we like the idea of him living in a diverse area we are uncomfortable with THOSE kids. They might be ghetto!

    I am amazed at the people moving into our once tolerant, diverse community who manage to preach diversity but fail to practice it in any meaningful way. And then when something like Chavez Avenue comes up they invent a hundred reasons to be opposed.

    Protecting history? Let’s talk history of North Portland, then. Like how segregated this city has been. Like how we had to have race riots to get them to put in parks. Like how hard the black community has fought to improve education, often to deaf ears. And how this community originally welcomed Mexican Americans, along with Indians, Russians, and all the other poor immigrant populations the rest of the city was content to ignore. But that was before it was hip and diverse to live here.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  12. WackyMommy says

    I hear you.

    October 2nd, 2007 | #

  13. Anne says

    Thanks for writing about this. The Oregonian would have us believing there were little or no racist motivations to opposing the name change. Your post revealed the nasty truth.
    I went to the petition site. Here is what I wrote:
    I would love to drive down Chavez Blvd. in Portland, to tell my daughter all that Cesar did for farmworkers, to talk about marching with the farmworkers in 1975 and not eating grapes for years when I was a child. This would be a small honor for a great man

    October 3rd, 2007 | #

  14. megs says

    Some of the most racist people I ever met were here in Portland. And I grew up visiting relatives every summer in precivil rights deep south Georgia and Alabama. Now there’s a big yucky for you. I remember getting chastised by my Granny for drinking out of the wrong drinking fountain.

    October 3rd, 2007 | #

  15. JJ says

    I live over in Piedmont neighborhood http://www.portlandneighborhood.com/piedmont.html and am directly in the line of fire re: the recent street change and the proposed Interstate renaming. My neighbors are up in arms and personally, I don’t really care all that much. I do wonder, however, about the impact to the business owners. Who covers their expenses?

    October 9th, 2007 | #

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