Sunday, September 3, 2017

What's in a Name?

In my hometown some years ago there was controversy over whether a school should be named after labor rights activist, Cesar Chavez. You would think that a town where the majority of the population is Mexican, and many families are either farmworkers, there wouldn't be much controversy. But of course, there was. Eventually years later a school would be named after him, and then I heard they even tried to name the town plaza after him as well.

Cesar Chavez Town Plaza :Proposal

Navarette Op-ed: Why Are We Still Naming Things After Cesar Chavez?

In Salinas, similarly, there were folks who wanted to name a school after Tiburcio Vasquez. Yes, the bandit hero. Or just plain bandit criminal depending on who you talk to. I can understand the controversy there. Although I personally don't have a problem with the name, the way these things go, it just depends on who argues the loudest and who has the most votes. One of the reasons given to not name the school after him was due to the prevalent gang violence in the city. As if to say, that gang violence would increase if a school was named after Vasquez. Then does that mean, that if a school was named after Cesar Chavez, would more adolescents want to become labor activists? Or if we name Superman will there be an increase in students using makeshift capes and jumping off the school's rooftop? Chales. Anyhow, again, a topic hotly debated, but one of the schools would be named after him, and a few years later it would be voted to have its name changed to "Monte Bella." Sigh.

Salinas School Changes Name After Years of Controversy

I'm writing this post because I think it's important to reflect and understand that words and the way we name things matter. Or for that matter, who we use words and names. For example, there has been a surge to get rid of confederate monuments and flags. I understand the necessity for this. These attacks on such representations of slavery and oppression became all the more important with the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement. And later it became a lot more important when the Orange One ran for office spewing ignorance about everything, but especially when it came to race. Most recently after the incident in Charlottesville.

What is important to consider is how people used Drumpf's name and some of his talking points as slogans for mean-spirited graffiti. For example, a year ago, "Make America Great Again," "Build A Wall," and the Orange One's name were spray painted at a local high school. These things weren't used to simply show support for the Orange One, they were done, due to the controversy, and to what he represented for the students that did this. This wasn't the only incident during that time, there others throughout the U.S. Students chanted "build a wall" at Latino basketball players or held up posters. Kids being kids I guess, just trying to antagonize rivals, because free speech.

At a UC Santa Barbara classroom, where Chicano Studies was taught, the Orange One's name was written on the white board. People were upset. Now there's a couple of ways to think about this. One is that the person that did this, did it because s/he genuinely supported the Orange One, and wanted people to see his name, and consider voting for him. In other words, it was propoganda. I've seen this done plenty of times before, but it's usually done for the candidates running for the associated student body on campus. They'll write, "vote 4 [college student name here]." But it is also possible, the person that did this, did it knowing that a Chicano Studies class was going to be taught there, and wanted to antagonize the professor and students. If that was what was intended, well then, mission accomplished. Maybe the person hated Chicano Studies, and what it stood for, and decided this was a great way to get back the ideas expunged in these courses, instead of just fist-shaking from behind a computer screen and ranting, "rarr lousy uppity Mexicans!"

Either way, this continues to return to the issue, that a name can bring about controversy and at times names are used intentionally to further agendas of hate, or to antagonize other groups. Free speech, of course, comes into play. Although I would like to advocate for free speech in all its forms, I just can't because upon seeing what has happened in Charlottesville, and what Drumpf and his words represent for racists, it really is just not the same. Someone died over words and ideas. And these ideas and words took shape in a protest to not tear down a statue of Robert E. Lee, and escalated into someone running over an Anglo woman who had been protesting against racism and hate. The ideas Dylan Roof learned took shape in the form of a massacre at an African-American church.

On the other side, you might have some portions of say, Antifa who believe it is okay to punch white nationalists in the face, free speech be damned. But Antifa is similarly an embodiment of ideas taken shape. Therefore if this is an issue of free speech, then anti-racist protesters are also exercising their freedom of speech in different extremes.

So when you see the Orange One's name spray-painted on a school or written on a white board, it's easy to shrug it off and say that liberals are taking things too far by being too sensitive about the incident. Yes, too much time should not be spent on the issue, but it's important to think about what is within the context of the person's name, the history, and/or the ideas. Whether we like it or not, the Orange One's name and his very being represent a set of ideas for many racist people, not just white folks who feel ignored or left behind. His name and slogans are used in place of direct racist epithets.

Imagine: what if one day, a school or library is named after the Orange One? If he is ever given a monument, will it stay up very long? I think people tolerated places named after Reagan and Bush. But we are in different times with a prez who is generally disliked by many.

Yet there is strong oppositions to name things after Cesar Chavez. What did the opposition see in his name?

There is so much more to wrestle with, in regards to free speech and hate speech, but maybe in another post.  

Anyhow, just a scattered rant.


1 comment:

  1. That's the thing - things are named, erected (hehe) in one era and then interpreted differently in another. The urge to slash and burn history that offends is curious because it's not a new concept, despite what the media says. Many civilizations have done similar things throughout time. Take the Spanish for example, they burned and destroyed shitloads of history, monuments, records etc. because they found it "savage," sacrilegious and to put it in modern terms, "deplorable." And many people look at what they did as heinous now. But many civilizations have done this. And now the urge to do it again is growing. It's important to understand that the desire to do these things 100% percent comes from a feeling of moral superiority. These are morality crusades. But taken in the context of historical significance, do they do any good? Depends who you ask...were the Crusades "good" or "bad"? My point is that people get lost in the context, which is a mistake. Take Chavez or Vasquez for example...why was there opposition to their names? Why was there support? It all boils down to a belief that the person was "good" or "bad," and how that will affect people later - again, morality crusades. Won't someone think of the children?! Just as there is strong opposition to Chavez, as you noted, there is also strong support for Trump. Both sides believe they're right. History teaches us that no one ever believes they're the "bad guy." Why? These are subjective philosophical concepts - good/evil. But people don't think about that - they just act.

    I'm rambling but I'll leave you with this. People revere the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, and not long ago people believed they were constructed with slave labor, i.e. they were monuments to slavery. Recently belief has shifted to a different narrative, thinking that maybe it wasn't slaves but my point is that it's open to interpretation. One man's pride is another's hate. Should the white house be burned to the ground? It was built by slaves. Today, many people would say YES! But just last year, many of those folks would say NO! Lol...We live in a hyperactive vacuum right now. This too shall pass. 100 years from who knows how people will interpret any of this? But one thing is certain, somewhere, some day, people will again want to get up on their "high horse" and erase whatever came before because it offends them. That, my friend, is human nature - we are big dumb animals who love to destroy our history and beat our chests in moral triumph when we do...until the next generation does the same thing.