Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Embracing Chavez Blvd.

Naming Rites

If you were asked to prioritize all of the issues that can be appropriately addressed by the Portland City Council, where would you place renaming a street after Cesar Chavez?

Yeah, me too. It definitely wouldn’t crack the top ten. I suspect a significant number of Latinos actually feel the same way, considering the unemployment rate, high cost of housing, decreased funding for public schools and shabby state of public parks. Nevertheless, the issue is not only on the table, it’s jumping up and down and demanding attention like a four-year-old who didn’t get dessert.

Not that I’m opposed to renaming a street after Cesar Chavez. In fact, I have the perfect street in mind. It’s not 39th Ave., nor Broadway, nor Grand Ave. all of which have been suggested. No, it’s Glisan Street. Glisan is one of the longest and most culturally diverse streets in all of Portland—and even stretches out to the eastern edge of the city where most Latinos live.

Besides that, no one pronounces Glisan correctly. Named after Rodney Glisan, an early Oregon physician who married into wealth, it is supposed to be pronounced like “glisten.” Instead, it’s commonly pronounced “glee-son.” No one knows why, exactly, though many believe this pronunciation emerged after World War II when a James Gleason was a prominent politician in Portland.

The right way to do it would be to keep it Glisan St. on the west side of the Willamette, because the streets go in alphabetical order in Northwest Portland. (The one that starts with “C” is Couch, named after the famous naval captain who owned much of that part of town—and whose daughter Glisan married). But on the east side of the river, name it Chavez. It’s certainly not unusual for streets to vanish at the banks of the river. For example, from the west, you approach the Morrison Bridge on Alder St., but come off it on Belmont St., which is only on the east side.

No matter which street is renamed, people are going to protest it. Businesses particularly get upset with street renaming, citing the cost of changing stationary, business cards and advertising. That’s small change compared to the gain businesses could see were their street to become Chavez Boulevard.

With the economy scraping bottom, businesses need to take advantage of every opportunity. The Latino community in Portland is growing—and also growing more affluent. For the most part, this is a culture with strong family values that also aspires to own all the trappings of the American middle class. It’s a market that is ignored only by the smug and foolish.

Savvy merchants, restaurateurs and barkeeps should lobby for the name change, and then post banners and signs saying “We are proud to be part of the street honoring Cesar Chavez.”

And then make sure they can speak Spanish.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Fauna Chauvinism

The Fly

There was a rumor buzzing around the Internet for a few days that Jeff Goldblum had died, joining Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon. Fortunately for all us Goldblum geeks, it wasn’t true. Hope still abounds that he will live on to make films as great as The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eight Dimension and Earth Girls Are Easy.

The preceding week, President Obama committed the most famous assassination of a common house fly since The Karate Kid. The swift and sudden hand clap executed by Obama was quite impressive. Yeah, no more Mr. Nice Guy.

So along comes PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) complaining that instead of killing the fly, Obama should have gently caught it and released it later—all the meanwhile carrying on an interview about foreign policy. PETA’s protest generated the usual guffaws among the late night talk show comics, yet the true nature of this insidious organization still needs to be exposed.

While asserting the sanctity of all life, PETA neglects to protect at least half of it. Do you ever hear PETA screaming about the hellacious juggernaut of agricultural machinery mowing down defenseless little soybeans so that you may have your tofu? Does PETA ever protest the plucking and slicing of tomatoes? Or condemn uprooting the heads of onions from their cozy refuge in the earth? Of course not. It looks the other way when fruits and vegetables are slaughtered mercilessly. In fact, PETA encourages such carnage.

PETA is a fauna chauvinist front. As such, it has no moral authority. Is a fly more important than, say, an apple tree? I think not.

Therefore, I really don’t get too upset when people kill flies. All I ask is that first, they look to make sure that Jeff Goldblum’s tiny head is not affixed to the fly’s body.