When City Hall was gearing up to name a Portland street after the Mexican American hero, Cesar Chavez, somebody should have suggested taking a little advice from The Supremes — "You can't hurry love."
A little patience would have made all the difference. So it's too bad that campaigners pushed to quickly change Interstate Avenue's name, without building enough support among neighbors. Promise King, and other supporters of the Rosa Park name change put in a lot of legwork behind the scenes before taking the idea public. On Interstate this didn't happen. Overnight almost, residents divided into opposing camps. An idea that was supposed to further community pride and friendship, instead led to suspicion, anger and racism.
Portland's substantial Latino population deserves to be recognized and Cesar Chavez was a remarkable American, definitely worth honoring. However, unlike Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez is not a household name. Every second grader can tell you about Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream, and that Rosa Parks would not relinquish her seat on the bus.
But how many Americans know that in 1944 Chavez was arrested for violating a "Whites only" segregation rule in a movie theater? How many know that Chavez subsequently joined the U.S. navy during World War II, serving in the campaigns to take Guam, Saipan, and Okinawa? That he was a man of strong faith who admired and followed St. Francis and Ghandi as well as union organizers and civil rights leaders.
As the founder of the United Farm Workers, Chavez did important civil rights work. He signed up Latino voters, advocated for agricultural workers and drew attention to the dangers of pesticides on our food. Did I mention, he started out as a farm worker himself, picking lettuces and beets.
For businesses and neighbors, much could be gained by honoring Chavez and Portland's Latinos. As the largest minority in the state, Latinos are contributing more and more to the city's economy. The street whose residents decide to cherish and grow this legacy can only benefit.
Commissioners Sten and Leonard are proposing forming a committee that will choose five streets as candidates for naming after Cesar Chavez. The aim is to have a final decision by next summer. It's a good move. Too bad so much remedial work must be done.
The city leaders spearheading this campaign could have done a better job in helping Latino leaders promote Chavez. They could have provided education and information that showed people the value of changing the street's name. They could have done the outreach they know is essential to any change. If only they hadn't tried to hurry love. Neighborhoods would be vying for the privilege of naming their street after Chavez.