Friday, October 5, 2018 by Ryan Thornton

City Council votes: Manchaca to become Menchaca

Austin City Council voted Thursday afternoon to rename South Austin’s Manchaca Road to reflect its allegedly historically accurate spelling: Menchaca.

While the issue may appear to be too simple for debate, the vowel in question is a placeholder for a much broader controversy involving the intersection between historical record, identity and the right way to implement change when a community does not speak with one voice.

At the heart of the debate is a belief that Manchaca Road was named for Captain José Menchaca, an American soldier and politician who fought in the 1835-36 Texas Revolution for independence from Mexico. Most proponents of this belief argue that words often evolve in pronunciation and in spelling, particularly when a mixture of languages are present, as has long been the case in Texas. With this conviction, organizations and individuals have advocated for the name change as a sign of respect for Menchaca and all Austin residents of Spanish descent.

On the other side of this debate are individuals with a variety of objections. The primary objection heard at City Hall on Thursday was the lack of solid historical evidence linking Manchaca Springs to Menchaca the Texan man. Born in San Antonio and a well-known figure of his time, it’s not unlikely the springs would have been named after him. There is, however, no proof that they were, or that Menchaca ever visited the area.

Adding to the confusion, there is the vague connection to Bayou Manchac in Louisiana, whose name derives from the Choctaw word meaning “the rear entrance.” According to the personal research of several residents who spoke in the public hearing, this is more than a coincidence. They suggest a common origin for Bayou Manchac and Manchaca Springs which predates Menchaca, the Texas soldier.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly to the Council members, there are the objections of residents and business owners that live along the Manchaca/Menchaca corridor. Robert Amoroso, for example, who spoke in the public hearing, estimated that the adjustments he would have to make in his business to accommodate the change would cost him over $49,000 in rebranding efforts.

“To some people it’s just a change in letter, but to a small business in a competitive market with small margins and rising property taxes, who cares about the details and spends a great deal of time protecting our brand and staying solid so we can hire people, make a living and serve the pet community with integrity, small changes are a big deal,” said Amoroso.

Such broad branding changes, however, would be the individual choice of each business owner.

“My heart goes out to some of these business owners, but we’re not asking you to change the name of your business,” explained Council Member Pio Renteria. “The post office has said they will deliver the mail to a ‘Manchaca’ or whatever-spelled name address.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen, however, felt that residents along the corridor were not given enough opportunities to participate in the decision.

“This road is entirely in my district and I cannot support it,” said Kitchen. “I do think that we could at least do a process where people feel like they have the right to be heard, so I have to object.”

Speaking specifically to the business owners, Kitchen also expressed serious concern about the potential difficulties the change may cause.

“I appreciate the extension of one month, that will be helpful to them at least, but it is hard to run a small business, and I am not in a position to tell them what they have to change and what they don’t have to change and to figure that out in a relatively short amount of time,” she said.

Despite her concerns for the lack of democratic process, Kitchen expressed her respect for the historical and cultural importance of the name change.

Council Member Leslie Pool stated her own concerns for residents along the corridor and the historical question of Manchaca’s origins.  “Because of the concerns that Council Member Kitchen has raised about her district and the businesses there and balancing it against the historical record and the lack of certainty, I plan to abstain, but I don’t think that will really have any major impact on the outcome of the vote,” said Pool.

Council voted to change the name with Pool abstaining and Kitchen voting in opposition.

The name change will take effect on Nov. 15.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

South Austin: South Austin is, very roughly, the portion of Austin south of Lady Bird Lake.

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