Home News Local News Group says naming rec center after Chávez will educate Roswell

Group says naming rec center after Chávez will educate Roswell

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City Councilor Juan Oropesa, Richard Garcia, Elena Velasquez and Bobby Villegas held a meeting of a committee to honor César Chávez on Thursday in the meeting room of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce. The committee has been meeting weekly to prepare for showing support for naming the new Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center, to be discussed at the City Council meeting next Thursday. Velasquez holds a photo of her father, on the left, standing with César Chávez. (Alison Penn Photo)

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The committee to honor César Chávez asserts that naming the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center after Chávez will give visibility to the Hispanic/Latino population in Roswell and provide education and self-esteem for the younger generations.

The committee is made up of about 10 individuals and has been meeting weekly to prepare for Thursday’s City Council meeting where they will speak in favor of naming the rec center after Chávez. Chávez and Dolores Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers Union, formerly the National Farm Workers Association. During his lifespan from 1927 to 1993, Chávez was known as a civil rights activist, as well as an American farm worker and labor leader.

Elena Velasquez, former city councilor, has spearheaded the committee offer for potential streets or buildings of Roswell to be named after Chávez for the last few years. Velasquez brought a photo of her father and Chávez and explained that Chávez’s work did have influence in New Mexico and for farm workers over the nation. Councilor Juan Oropesa, Richard Garcia and Bobby Villegas were the members present to speak with the Daily Record on Thursday.

“We are part of this community, Velasquez said. “It’s important to us to have some things named in honor of a Hispanic leader, a Hispanic icon.”

Velasquez said she is a Republican and the committee has individuals with other political affiliations. She and committee agreed that naming the center after Chávez transcends political boundaries and is not political in origin. The committee said that the Hispanic community is organized and various organizations like the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, a local chapter of Somos un Pueblo Unido and League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) are present in Roswell.

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“It’s about our Hispanic roots, culture — Hispanic presence here,” Velasquez continued. “Our story is we are here and we feel like it’s important that we are represented and that we have the opportunity to name something in honor of such a great person as César Chávez.”

All of the committee members said that streets, buildings and even a naval ship and postage stamps, have been named after him in other cities and that he was honored nationally with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994.

Richard Garcia said the issue is “very dear” to the committee and “it represents not only our culture but our history — what we have sacrificed.” He said he felt proud when he saw Avenida César Chávez in Albuquerque and would like other Hispanic pioneers to be honored in the same way in Roswell.

In 2016, the city of Roswell’s Parks and Recreation Commission voted to approve naming the new rec center after Chávez. In June of 2015, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution to request to rename the Roswell Relief Route in honor of Chávez and Martin Luther King Jr. In a previous edition of the Roswell Daily Record, it was reported that the resolution has “withered without the support of the Chaves County commission.”

At a meeting in August, around eight people shared their viewpoints on the matter, ranging from approval, disapproval or offering other suggestions at the General Services Committee meeting. The committee voted to send the item to full council with a vote of 3 to 1. Velasquez said it has been “disheartening” to see the public outcry at this meeting from what she called a “small and vocal” and “negative” and “very disrespectful” group.

Some of the attendees of the General Services meeting said they felt naming the rec center was divisive and said Chavez was affiliated with “leftist” politics. The committee speculated what leftist meant and Villegas said people see Chavez’s involvement with the unions as liberal. Velasquez said Roswell “respects, accepts and negotiates with unions every day” from teacher to police to fire unions and more and that she does’t believe Chavez’s involvement in unions was leftist. Garcia said he was tired of unions being criminalized and Villegas said the project is not “left-leaning” but for the community now and future generations.

“Our kids have to look at each other with a lot of respect to each other and a César Chávez building is what I think is critically important at this time,” Villegas said. “Those kids — hoping in the future will not be in the same mindset as we are in this divided country as we are today. It will be a different culture of a different world. More of our kids are of mixed marriages; it will change the story where there is no me and you. It will just be at that time, hopefully, just us.”

Councilor Oropesa said he believes naming such a large-scale public place will educate those who use the building to give them the incentive to discover who Chávez was. He shared a personal anecdote of Chávez’s legacy with his own granddaughter. Villegas stated that many of the students in the Roswell Independent School District are of Hispanic or Latino descent and making a Hispanic icon accessible to them will encourage their self-esteem and self-respect and how other kids from various backgrounds will view them.

As a former volunteer for the census, Villegas shared the statistics that the Hispanic/Latino population was at 53.4 percent (22,832 people) as of 2010. Villegas said he did some research on years past and shared his calculations that he projects 68.1 percent in 2020 and 70.3 percent in 2030.

With the $20 million tax bond to pay for the rec center, Villegas said the Hispanic/Latino population is “paying the majority of the bill” and deserves to be seen and included. Garcia said the Hispanic community should see a return on gross receipts tax and other taxes within their businesses that they contribute to in the city.

Villegas brought up the lack of diversity on the airport advisory commission and said there are plenty of “good, competent Hispanic leaders that could have done the same job at the airport.” He said it was not out of line for the Hispanic community to request naming a facility after Chávez.

On the potential outcome, Oropesa said the committee will accept the result is, but the committee will not be discouraged in their efforts to name something after Chávez. Velasquez said she is “believing and praying” that enough councilors will vote to approve this and reminds them that their vote will be on the record and “down in history as to how they voted for the unity of Roswell.”

Garcia called Chavez a public servant and said he wants the process to be done in a civil manner with the city’s elected officials. He said he wants elected officials to know it is about the people they represent, not personal agendas. In his closing comment, Garcia said, “Que viva César Chávez.”

“We’re in for the fight,” Garcia said. “We’ve prepared for it. Let it go where it is going to go and there are other avenues that we might be able to pursue.”

Villegas said this issue is not a fight, but making an effort for the Hispanic community to be seen in Roswell. He said he looks forward to it passing and thinks it will appeal common sense people who have worked or grown up in agricultural communities including farmers, ranchers and dairy owners with Hispanic and Mexican workers.

“First of all, there are those that make those comments about this issue causing division and this being leftist — I think (they) are just doing this to incite people to get people to come against it,” Velasquez said. “Second, in my opinion, this one issue to name the recreational center in honor of César Chávez would do more than anything in the history of Roswell, in my opinion, to unite the community.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.