Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Palabra Final > Politics > A Latino vote that made a difference and is sending chills down the spines of city officials

A Latino vote that made a difference and is sending chills down the spines of city officials

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 — 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 — 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 — 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 — 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 — and it will be up to Latino voters to ensure that happens.

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  • mestiza
    June 10, 2008 at 2:03 am

    thank you for posting this, i had no idea this was going on. sometimes it seems like dallas tears down (erases?) its history and what little culture it has in favor of something new and soulless. it makes me happy that the name cesar chavez won by so many votes. the sudden backpedalling and wheedling by some of the councilmembers is a total giveaway that they never intended for that to be a viable option in the first place…

  • laura
    June 10, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Very interesting. We will see whether Dallas Latina/os can and will make their votes count: on this symbolic issue, as well as on the substantive issues of which elected officials represent them in the city and in the state, and what those representatives do for them.

  • Dee
    June 10, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    Wonderful article Marisa! Now all of us will follow this story closely. If they change the name, I think you should do a call-out to the PRO CIR Blogosphere and ask for support in publicizing this far and wide. I will help you and I know you can get others to help!!

  • Marisa Treviño
    June 10, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    Thanks, Dee. It seems Dallas city officials don’t feel like a showdown right now. They’ve put off choosing the name until August but they’ve hinted they will choose something that is more in line with the project. However, they do claim to address the Chavez vote in some way. We’ll see…

  • Al
    June 11, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Actions speak louder than words! We will see what happens and then we can see if there is any change in attitudes.

  • Gehrig Saldana
    August 2, 2008 at 7:00 am

    I read an interesting letter to the editor printed a couple weeks ago on the Dallas Morning News. The letter, written by Mr. Colby Jones states:
    The Dallas Morning News – Letters from Friday, July 18, 2008
    Re: “Ross Avenue eyed as namesake for Chávez,” by Mercedes Olivera, Saturday Metro.
    Unless something extremely appalling can be discovered about William and Andrew Ross, I strongly recommend not changing the name of Ross Avenue or anything that has already been named in honor of another person.
    I encourage policies that would make it more difficult to discard and disrespect previous tributes in honor of a person.
    If it seems necessary to name a street after Mr. Chávez instead of a park or other city resource, I suggest a new, unnamed street or renaming Live Oak Street in honor of Mr. Chávez. It is less than a half mile away, serves the same constituency and is about the same length.
    Colby Jones, Dallas
    The letter above brought to mind the issue of renaming a city street already named in honor of another person. It made me think what would happen if 50 years from now, a street renamed in honor of Cesar Chavez would be up for a city council vote to be renamed again, after someone else?
    While I do not advocate removing the name of an individual who has meaning and significance to this city to rename a street for Mr. Chavez, I do support the renaming of a generic named street such as Industrial Boulevard in honor of Cesar Chavez. That said, I believe supporters of the drive to rename Industrial Boulevard to Cesar Chavez Boulevard gave up much too early in the process to find a suitable new name for Industrial Boulevard.
    After reading this week’s Dallas Observer article written by Jim Schutze titled “What’s in a Nombre?” I better understand why all three Latino Dallas council members jumped ship on the drive to rename Industrial Boulevard to Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Their actions deflated a strong (survey results, public support) and growing public drive to rename Industrial Boulevard to Cesar Chavez Boulevard and gave validity to Mr. Schutze’s opinion that all of the Latinos on the Dallas City Council fell prey to Dallas’ well known and worn out tradition of politics of accommodation.
    Whoever led the Dallas City Council sponsored survey on this issue should be held accountable for where we are at this time on this issue. The survey should have spelled out in detail exactly the intent, purpose, and weight the survey would have in the renaming of Industrial Boulevard. This blunder left the door wide open for justifiable concerns over what now appears to represent Dallas City Council’s total disrespect for diversity and a visible impression that a majority of the Dallas City Council appear to place a higher value on the needs and wants of real estate developers than the citizens of the City of Dallas.
    In closing, if the Dallas City Council continues to exhibit the total disrespect and disregard it has thus far shown to Dallas’ Latino leadership on this issue I strongly recommend for all three (Cesar Chavez Task Force, Hispanic Leadership Forum, Accion America) organizations who are currently advocating on behalf of Cesar Chavez to pool their resources and cease their involvement in the politics of accommodation. As Jim Schutze’s states in his article, ‘César Chávez did not earn his name or his place in history by seeking “accommodation.” – Dallas’ Latino leadership should take heed to Cesar Chavez’ legacy.
    Comment by Gehrig Saldana, Vice President, LULAC Council 4496, Dallas

  • Emily S.
    August 29, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    This is an amazing project that we all should be a part of. There will be a Historical Marker to recognize the Ross brothers; that will allow more people to understand the history of our city.
    As for the businesses, they will have a one year grace period to make all the changes in address. This is truly an honor!
    If you all have any questions please visit
    The webpage will answer any questions you may have. Also, please take the time to fill out the petition. It will take less than 2 minutes, I promise.

  • Annie
    September 25, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    I was proud to hear that the Save Ross representatives support the inititive to honor Chavez. They mentioned that they would be working hand in hand with the Cesar Chavez Task Force. This initiative is bringing our community together and our city representatives should honor the survey that started this all.

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