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Judge blocks naming San Antonio street for Cesar Chavez


A man holds a photo of Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers, during an immigration rights rally at the Arizona State Capital in Phoenix, Arizona, September 4, 2006. REUTERS/Jeff Topping
A man holds a photo of Cesar Chavez, the founder of the United Farm Workers, during an immigration rights rally at the Arizona State Capital in Phoenix, Arizona, September 4, 2006. REUTERS/Jeff Topping

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A judge on Monday blocked the city of San Antonio from renaming a street after the late labor activist Cesar Chavez.

The temporary restraining order from State District Judge Antonia Arteaga came just days after the City Council voted along ethnic lines to approve the name change.

The proposal to rename Durango Street, one of the city's main streets, has divided a city where 61 percent of residents are Hispanic.

"It is very important that we protect the integrity of our history, and that includes objecting to changing street names," said Bill Oliver, who represents the San Antonio Conservation Society, which sued to oppose the name change.

But Jaime Martinez, a longtime San Antonio labor leader and a former associate of Chavez, who died in 1993, disagreed.

"We've been waiting for fifteen years to get the renaming of a street, a major street, for Cesar Chavez," Martinez said. "There are over 200 streets in the last 10 years that had their names changed, and there was no problem."

Chavez, a founder of the National Farm Workers Union, was best known for calling on Americans to boycott buying grapes to press his demand for higher wages and better working conditions for migrant workers. Many of the workers were undocumented immigrants who worked the California produce fields.

Chavez was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in recognition of his civil rights and labor activism.

The seven Hispanic members of San Antonio City Council all voted in favor of the name change last week, while the two Anglos, the one African-American and the one Asian-American member voted no.

Durango Street was named after the Mexican city and state of Durango as part of an 1880s housing development that catered to immigrants from Mexico.

Mayor Julian Castro, who voted in favor of the name change, is vowing to try to overcome the unexpected divisions the issue has created.

"We look forward to hearing everybody's comments," Castro said. "As we consider big issues for the city, we will continue to look out for folks."

A hearing on the name change is set for June 3, when Oliver says the Conservation Society will seek to make Monday's temporary injunction permanent.

Martinez, who was shot down when he proposed naming another street for Chavez, said he is prepared to continue to push for San Antonio to honor the labor leader's legacy.

"We're going to fight this," he said on Monday. "This is the wrong decision for our city."

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Greg McCune)

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