LatinaLista — The Latino swing vote has arrived early and if the city officials of Dallas, Texas are any indication, it will be an unsettling experience for the nation.
Dallas is not unlike hundreds of other metropolitan cities across the country creating new urban developments to take their city into the 21st Century. It never seems to matter that to get there whole sections of the city that housed original settlements of the first ethnic citizens have to be demolished in the process. It’s called progress.
Dallas skyline as seen across the Trinity River.
In Dallas’ case, it was the misfortune of the area known as “Little Mexico” that it occupied the most prime real estate in Big D. Today, little is left of what was once a bustling, self-contained community.
To people outside of these communities, little sympathy is offered for old and dated buildings when sleek, glass skyscrapers or mega, multipurpose arenas can take their places. Yet for the people who can trace their family line to these communities, the demolition is painful because it essentially wipes away any testament to the fact that “they were there.”
And in Dallas’ case, the city has always had an uneasy relationship with its Latino community. The point has never been more clearly seen than what is currently happening regarding the city’s Latino population, some city officials and a guy by the name of Cesar Chavez.
To give a bit of backstory: The Trinity River is an eyesore of an area for Dallas. It winds itself along the shadow of the city’s skyline and essentially separates the north and south sides of the city. During the rainy season, it’s not unusual for the river’s banks to flood and create a massive dirty lake. City officials have long wanted to create an area that addressed the flood problems but also added an aesthetic element that would attract families from all over the Metroplex to make the out-of-the-way trip downtown and spend some time in the revamped area.
Plans have been underway for the multibillion-dollar Trinity River project that would include remaking the river corridor with a park, lakes and hiking trails.
The designed look for the Trinity River project.
A major Dallas thoroughfare, Industrial Boulevard, that would lead into this new Trinity River area is also going to be undergoing some revamping of its own. One element is to rename the street.
Whether to be seen as more democratic or to show they knew how to interact with their constituents using new technology, the Dallas City Council’s Trinity River Corridor Project Committee gave the ok to ask for suggestions for new names for the street from the residents.
Suggestions were made and in a City Council-sponsored poll, voters were led to believe that the suggested name with the most votes would be bestowed on the street. Among the suggestions was that the boulevard be named Cesar Chavez.
Other suggestions were the name of a current Texas Congressional Representative and other names that were more closely associated with the Trinity River project like Riverfront Boulevard and Trinity Lakes Boulevard.
Well, polling was complete, via Internet and telephone, and votes were tallied and by an overwhelming majority (52%) Cesar Chavez was the name of choice. The name that came in a distant second place was Riverfront Boulevard at 18.8%.
Yet, city officials didn’t release the winner’s name with much fanfare. It wasn’t realized until a local newspaper reported on it that city officials appeared nervous about the results. Some began discounting the poll saying “This was not a contest. This was a public survey. The process was not scientific.”
Others have been saying that they favor one of the names that had more to do with the river project itself.
Yet when the poll was presented to the public for voting, the distinction that this vote didn’t count, and was only for survey purposes, was not made.
The Dallas Latino community saw the name of a man whose legacy is revered throughout Latino communities in the nation and, maybe learning well the lessons of these early presidential candidate primaries, exercised their right to vote for the name of a man who signifies fighting for justice.
But this vote is something that the City of Dallas is not accustomed to seeing. They are use to the Dallas Latino community making noise but never following up with action that can really make a difference â€” and that action is the act of voting.
Ironically, one name has already been bestowed on a major architectural feat to be featured in the Trinity River area â€” a beautiful bridge designed by renowned architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava. The bridge’s name will be the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. While the bridge actually passes over the Trinity River area, unlike the boulevard that runs parallel to it, there was no fuss over making the name of the bridge fit better with the project.
Tomorrow the Dallas City Council’s Trinity River Corridor Project Committee is going to endorse one of the names. If they’re smart, they’ll endorse the name that won by a landslide.
If they discount it, they are delivering a message that is so mid-twentieth century â€” that the votes of Latinos don’t count. Back in the 50s, 60, 70s, and even 80s, they got away with discounting the wishes of the Latino community. In this day and age, they’ve gotten away with demolishing the original settlement of the first Latinos in the city by claiming the area for progress â€” but no more.
Dallas county is now majority Latino and they have spoken in a way that is new and obviously disturbing to a group not accustomed to seeing Latinos’ votes make a difference.
But the lesson learned from this simple street name vote is that Latino votes still won’t matter unless they’re honored, respected and recognized â€” and it will be up to Latino voters to ensure that happens.