Westside street name debate continues
The fate of San Andres Street’s name is still up for grabs, and both those who want it changed and those who do not are speaking up.
The Dolores Huerta Street Renaming Project, led by Santa Barbara residents Miguel Rodriguez and Miguel Avila, is petitioning to change the Westside street name to “Calle Dolores Huerta” to honor the labor leader and civil rights activist who fights for women’s, immigrants’ and farmworkers’ rights.
Flyers posted around town by the project say, “San Andres is named after Andrés Pico, who was neither a saint nor a resident of Santa Barbara.”
But there’s more to the story, Santa Barbara historian Neal Graffy told the News-Press.
Mr. Graffy dug into the history of Andrés Pico and the reasons behind the original naming of the street.
He mentioned many reasons behind the name, including Andrés Pico’s “elevation to sainthood,” the level of respect he had from native Californians for his decisions in the Mexican-American War and the lives he saved. Mr. Graffy also mentioned that Pico was the first black senator in California and the first black person to have a street named after him.
“I think that Andrés Pico’s decisive victory at San Pascual, plus the treaty that he signed, the Treaty of Cahuenga, had such astounding rights for the conquered enemy that treated them as equals,” Mr. Graffy told the News-Press. “He set all that up. They admired him so much for that.”
He continued that the elevation to sainthood was “a tongue-in-cheek thing because they liked him so much.”
“By naming the street ‘San Andres’ and elevating Pico to ‘sainthood,’ the Committee displayed how the native Californians felt about him and their sense of humor, which can be found winding in and out of our original 52 street names,” Mr. Graffy wrote in a statement.
In response to Mr. Graffy’s piece, Miguel Rodriguez wrote a statement titled, “Andrés Pico Was Very Rich and Definitely Not a Saint.”
“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,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote. “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?”
He went on to ask if his sainthood designation is to be passed off as “humorous.”
“Can you imagine saying ‘Saint Robert E. Lee’ or ‘Saint Ulysses S. Grant?’
“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,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote.
In conclusion, Mr. Rodriguez stated that the project is in agreement with Mr. Graffy that future generations should embrace history as part of the community’s legacy.
“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,” he wrote.
In the interview with the News-Press, Mr. Graffy spoke to the concept of removing historic statues and renaming streets with a historian’s viewpoint.
“We are sitting here in our 21st-century comfy chairs with our bottle of Pinot and judging these people from a bygone era and the accomplishments that they had and the respect that they had from the people at that time,” he said. “We’re just saying, ‘Whatever you guys thought, our guys are better.’ So if we start renaming things, what is to stop the next generation from coming up and saying, ‘Who cares about whoever this person was? Steve Jobs gave us the cell phone. Let’s rename the Dolores Huerta street to Steve Jobs Street.’”
He said that each generation will honor new people for different reasons, and should find new ways to honor those people.
“I think it’s sad that we cast judgment on these people from a bygone era who can’t defend themselves. They’re long dead and the people that supported them are long dead,” Mr. Graffy said. “Judging people with 21st-century morality is not always the answer. I think you really need to understand what these people came from and what the people of the time thought.”
The historian has lived in Santa Barbara since he was 9 years old in the year 1961. He wrote a book titled “Street Names of Santa Barbara” that details the stories and history behind each of the original 52 street names of the city.
Mr. Graffy said he supports honoring Dolores Huerta, and encourages planting a community garden named after her, as “something that gives to the people instead of taking away from history.”
“I don’t think they should rename anything,” he said. “I think that when people are wanting to honor somebody, they should find a way that does not trespass on the accomplishments and achievements of people from another era. Take yourself back to that time and don’t judge them with your 21st-century values. Understand what their thoughts and concepts were, and then judge them accordingly to what their time was like.”
The Dolores Huerta Street Renaming Project is set to meet with the Community Advisory council on Aug. 24 to decide next steps.