Accelerating claps, men crying and cheers filled the Salt Lake City-County Building Wednesday as a small army of Utahns asked for a name change — one they hope changes minds across the state.
"I'm shaking a little bit," said Utah Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, as he urged the City Council to turn central 500 South into Cesar Chavez Boulevard. "I don't believe the renaming of this boulevard is just symbolic . . . it's a tool for teaching in our schools, for teaching in our homes" about Chavez's ideals.
Others, including a tearful Michael Clara, quoted Chavez: "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community."
Chavez's activism — nonviolent protest on behalf of farm workers — affected us all, added AnnaJane Arroyo of Weber State University. Because of the strikes and boycotts he led in California, conditions have improved for workers across the country. Pesticide use has decreased, benefiting consumers and the environment, as well as farm workers. "In honoring Cesar Chavez, we'll honor the labor, the backs that were broken to put food on our table," Arroyo said. She hopes her hometown, Ogden, will follow suit and name a major street after a Hispanic activist.
Council members admitted that they hadn't known Chavez visited Utah before his death in 1993. But they expressed admiration for the activist, who galvanized communities with statements such as, "We can choose to use our lives for others to bring about a better and more just world for our children . . . and in giving of yourself you will discover a whole new life full of meaning and love."
One Salt Laker, Paul Sharp, called the name change pandering to a particular political group. Brigham Young designed Salt Lake City with numbered streets to make it easy to find your way around, Sharp said, and there's still nothing wrong with that system. "When the Mexicans take over the country, they can name a whole city after Cesar Chavez if they want to."
Sharp "has every right to express his opinion," said Arroyo. Hearing from him "reminds us that we have to keep on keeping on."
"I'm grateful to live in a country where we can come together and disagree respectfully," added Clara.
The people who spoke in support of Cesar Chavez Boulevard sat quietly until Eligio White asked them to show the council what the farm worker clap sounded like. They started out slowly; then their clapping picked up speed — and the council members seemed invigorated. Typically, council-chamber audiences are instructed not to applaud, no matter how strongly they feel during a public hearing. But no one shushed them this time.
After the hearing and the council's unanimous vote for Cesar Chavez Boulevard, advocates embraced one another in the hallway. When Mayor Rocky Anderson came out, they surrounded him; then they surrounded each emerging council member.
"It was a unifying moment, wasn't it?" said Archie Archuleta, the mayor's minority affairs coordinator.
Cesar Chavez Boulevard signs will be put up this fall on 500 South — but only from 700 East to 500 West, in part because the Committee to Honor Cesar Chavez must raise the $2,700 to pay for the signs. But "we'll be back," possibly to extend the boulevard, promised Lee Martinez, the former Salt Lake City councilman who heads the committee.