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From Brooklyn, With Love

The idea called for changing the name of a prominent street in Los Angeles to honor a revered dead leader. A seven-mile-long street was chosen because it cut east-west across the community he had worked so hard to serve. Some business owners were unhappy about the inconvenience and expense involved in changing stationery.

It was 1982, and the dead leader was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The street that would bear his name was Santa Barbara Avenue, in the heart of Los Angeles’ African-American community. That scenario is strikingly similar to one now existing in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles’ Eastside.

It’s fitting that many Angelenos want to honor Cesar Chavez, the late Mexican-American labor leader, by giving his name to a seven-mile section of Brooklyn Avenue, Macy Street and Sunset Boulevard. The busy commercial stretch was chosen for its symbolic importance: Avenida Cesar E. Chavez would begin at Olvera Street, the city’s birthplace, and extend to East Los Angeles College.

Opponents say they too want to honor Chavez but that the name should be given to less busy streets. They also cite a desire to hold on to the history of Brooklyn Avenue, once home to many Jewish vendors and now home to many Latino vendors.

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But the whole point of honoring a major figure like Chavez by naming a street after him is that the street be a prominent one, one traveled daily by many people. Although the cost of redoing signs is likely to be an issue in the debate, it is natural resistance to change that probably is the biggest force driving the opposition.

We think business owner Sergio Rodriguez put it in perspective: What Brooklyn Avenue was and is can never be taken away--be it called Brooklyn Avenue or Avenida Cesar E. Chavez.


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