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Reporter’s Notebook: Places and names

Monday, October 1, 2018 by Austin Monitor

What do you say... The Austin street with the most confounding, or at least distinctively quirky, pronunciation could be headed for a name change. A public hearing scheduled for Thursday’s City Council meeting will focus on a request to rename Manchaca Road to Menchaca Road to correct a generations-old misspelling of the surname of Texas Revolution soldier Jose Antonio Menchaca. The request for the change comes from Council Member Pio Renteria on behalf of the Justice for Menchaca nonprofit group that has committed to pay for the roughly $23,000 cost of replacing street signs on the road that runs from South Lamar Boulevard to the southern city limits. The possible name change would, of course, bring a new wrinkle to the debate over how the road’s name is expressed vocally. “Men-chack”? “Men-chaka”? Hopefully Council members give this vital issue the proper diligence it deserves on Thursday.

Tough conversations… The handful of joint meetings of the city’s Arts and Music commissions in recent years have typically been pretty kumbaya affairs since the two constituent groups have many of the same interests and often face similar challenges. Last Monday’s meeting, though, turned accusatory at several points when District 3 Arts Commissioner Felipe Garza made his feelings clearly known about the disenfranchisement of minority groups in his district. During a discussion about location-based business incentives, Garza monologued to representatives from the city’s Economic Development Department that rising housing prices have been inevitable any time the city has tried to clean up or otherwise improve the area. “One thing I know for a fact from living here in Austin over half of my life is that the road to gentrification, especially in East Austin, is paved with good intentions,” he said. “You look at the (University of Texas) and the Blacklands, they put Disch-Falk Field and some affordable housing and, BAM! The black community has been cut in half.” Later in the meeting Garza drew heckles and loud objections from leaders of arts groups in the audience facing funding cuts from the city. Those reactions came thanks to Garza’s barely veiled accusations that groups that have long received Cultural Arts Division funding from the city are benefiting from privileges not enjoyed by minority arts groups, which made up a large portion of the 100-plus new applicants to the funding pool this year.

A surprising endorsement… On Monday night, Rosanna Cervantes attended a meeting of the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees to suggest a new name for Sidney Lanier High School, one of a number of schools named for Confederate soldiers that the district is considering renaming. Cervantes urged the board to name the North Austin high school after her late mother, Diana H. Castañeda, who became the first Latina member of the school board in 1992. Cervantes described her mother, who died in 2016 at age 64, as a passionate and powerful advocate for the powerless: “She was a mother of five children, however many would say she was a mother to hundreds in the community and gave voice to those who did not have a voice.” Later on in the evening, Raul Rosa, a longtime East Austin activist who had come to speak against the closure of schools, told the board that he also supported naming a school after Castañeda. “She was a beautiful lady and she represented East Austin,” he said. He knew, he said, since it was him she beat to get on the board.

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook is from the notebooks of Chad Swiatecki and Jack Craver.

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