Dolores Huerta, pictured here at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2019 | Credit: Jay Godwin

Neal Graffy is a well-known historian in the Santa Barbara community who is deserving of respect for his knowledge and love of history. The Dolores Huerta Street Renaming Project cited material from his book on street names in Santa Barbara in its brief submitted to the Mayor and Council on May 5, 2020.

In the research section of that brief, there is detailed information about Andrés Pico, the person that San Andres Street is named after. Much of this information was obtained from the director of the San Fernando Historical Society and the Andrés Pico Adobe. Of course, this extensive information could not be included in a one-page public flyer, which is the sole basis of Mr. Graffy’s recent opinion piece in the Independent. In this piece, he adds some interesting background about the military exploits of Andrés Pico during the Mexican–American War.

What is not included in his article is the fact that, after the war, Andrés Pico became a United States citizen and made a fortune on the 60,000 acres of land allotted to him by his brother, Pio Pico. This was land annexed from Mexican owners as spoils of war, which were taken over and became part of California. We have to ask: How would people of Mexican heritage feel about honoring a man who became fabulously wealthy from receipt of lands repossessed from their ancestors?

Currently, there is a wave of protest across this entire country directed at figures in history who represent painful reminders to Black people of their enslavement, disenfranchisement and violence. Statues, flags, memorial plaques, and street names of Confederate leaders are being removed in many locations across the United States. This is part of a long overdue social justice movement to end the celebration of shameful periods of our history that do not deserve to be commemorated.

It is not that the history is false; it is just that it is no longer considered worthy of honor. In fact, quite the contrary, it is symbolic of white supremacy which deeply undermines the rights and inherent value of marginalized peoples, whether they be Black, Latinx, Native American, or other Americans of color.

As an example, it is a matter of history that there was a dead Indian found in the location of Indio Muerto Street. But this is no reason to retain this offensive street name. In fact, the Indio Muerto Street Renaming Project makes the point that: “Because racism still exists in Santa Barbara, California, and in the USA, we need to stand up to ensure that Black Lives do matter, that Indigenous self-determination is honored, and that all manifestations of institutionalized racism are challenged and eliminated no matter what form it takes nor what people and groups support racism.” [Marcus Lopez, Letter to Mayor, June 15, 2020.]

“Calle Dolores Huerta” will give public recognition to a Latina hero who has devoted her life to promoting the rights of the poor and demanding their access to decent living and working conditions. For this reason, she is one of five distinguished honorees as 2020 RFK Ripple of Hope Laureates including Dr. Anthony Fauci.

As for the designation “Saint Andrew” that was given to Andrés Pico, is it acceptable to pay homage to a military leader by conferring sainthood on him? Is this to be passed off as “humorous”?

If one wants to convey distinction to a military leader, one raises his rank. One does not dub him a saint. Can you imagine saying “Saint Robert E. Lee” or “Saint Ulysses S. Grant”? Sainthood is a religious honor to be taken seriously. The process of canonization is rigorous and demanding, sometimes taking hundreds of years to complete. It is at best irreverent and at worst offensive to the Catholic faith to apply this designation so inappropriately.

Frequently, people mispronounce the name San Andrés as San Andreas, raising unpleasant reminders of the San Andreas fault and the frightening prospect of lost lives. It might be better to be reminded of gardens with, as Mr. Graffy says, “a slight play“ on Dolores Huerta’s last name.

This suggestion that we name a garden after Dolores Huerta might not have been intended to be demeaning to this iconic figure in history. However, considering the way that women have been erased from history for centuries, often deliberately, this implication must be addressed.

Male figures dominate the cultural landscape so completely that they overshadow, even obliterate, the accomplishments of women. In the specific case of the City of Santa Barbara, are there any streets named after important women in history? Dolores herself raised this question in her interview on KEYT news in July. We are hard put to provide an answer.

In order to change the name of a street, according to Ordinance #3485 of the Municipal Code, the existing name must be inappropriate, derogatory, or offensive. This effectively rules out a number of alternatives that have been suggested of parks, plazas, bridges, gardens and other streets unless that other street name meets this requirement as San Andres does.

The naming of a street after Dolores Huerta would be a critical step in the direction of gaining gender equity. To be able to correct an unfortunate gender bias in this city that gives recognition to César Chávez and none to the co-partner who worked alongside him was a major incentive for this project.

We have an opportunity to make a public statement of the equal importance of women’s work with that of men’s. Let us choose to honor a woman who fought for social justice her whole life rather than a man who fought in a 10- to 15-minute battle and then lost the war.

The treaty that Andrés Pico negotiated benefited the landed elite — those with property and wealth — and he became one of them. Dolores, on the other hand, worked for the poor and dispossessed — those who had no land and no wealth.

This is a crucial difference in legacy that is not primarily about race but about class. Do we give precedence to the elite propertied class or to the poor disadvantaged workers? It is the legacy of Dolores Huerta that is more closely aligned with the current Black Lives Matter movement in this country than the ethnic make-up of Andrés Pico, whatever percentage of him was black. Are we speaking for the rich or for the poor? We need to decide which legacy we want to honor.

We cannot eradicate history, as Mr. Graffy fears, but we can choose not to celebrate it. We can move forward with the values we are advocating today in the direction of inclusion and promotion of diversity.

We agree with Mr. Graffy that we should create something for future generations to embrace as part of our community’s legacy. Dolores Huerta represents the inherent value of women’s work and the significance of social justice over military exploits. She spent years helping the laboring poor and training leaders to fight for equity and human rights in Santa Barbara and throughout California.

Calle Dolores Huerta is the perfect symbol for future generations to be proud of.

This opinion piece represents the Dolores Huerta Street Renaming Project with Miguel Rodriguez as its representative.


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