McEnery Deserves the Honor

Editorial Page: 7B

By Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez is a playwright, filmmaker (“Zoot Suit,” “La Bamba”) and social activist.


I support the idea of naming San Jose’s new convention center in honor of a wonderful mayor, Tom McEnery. My reasons are varied, but the most compelling is quite simple and honest. He deserves it.

Tom McEnery grew up in San Jose as I did. He loves this city and this valley. He has given us leadership, accomplishment and pride. It is only fitting that the convention center be named in his honor, so that all our children may know what any American with a little ethnic pride and heart can achieve for the betterment of his home town. (Tuesday night, the San Jose City Council will consider naming the convention center for McEnery.)

Allow me to point out a few other reasons, some personal, some provocative, but all downright historical.

As a Chicano playwright, I’ve always had a special affection for the Irish. Just consider the stirring, profound history of Ireland, where they still speak Gaelic, their ancient tongue.

Look at their arts, the poetry of William Butler Yeats, or the plays of John Synge and George Bernard Shaw, all of whom inspired my own early writings at San Jose State. Finally, look at the fiery political history of the Emerald Isle, so explosive, even into our own time.

What can you conclude? Only this: that in their most affectionate and proud Catholic manner, the Irish are the Mexicans of Western Europe.

When I became friends With Tom McEnery, it was a reaffirmation of that affection for the Irish, and of that cultural and political sense of identity. They brought their pride and their genius to the New World. And as anyone familiar with the heroism of the Saint Patrick’s Battalion during the U.S. war with Mexico can testify, they also brought their courage.

Tom McEnery has not only been a leader. In my estimation, he has been a great mayor, a human being with a heart and a vision that has inspired this entire valley during a crucial turning point in its evolution.

Naturally, there have been controversies. No tenure in public office is possible without them. The flap about the Fallon statue, to be sure, was an unfortunate misunderstanding. Yet it provoked the issue of history. What other mayor in recent history has given a whit about the early origins of Pueblo San Jose de Guadalupe?

Having transformed the city that we all love, ushering its downtown core into the 21st century, Tom was passionate about restoring its historical memory for generations to come.

On our walks through the streets of San Jose, we discussed ways to preserve that history, including the memory of Capitan Tiburcio Vasquez, the last of the California bandits. Vasquez, a folk hero to the Chicano community, was sentenced to death and hanged on Market Street in 1875, even though his grandfather had been one of the founders and alcaldes of old San Jose, and thus one of Mayor McEnery’s predecessors. If Fallon was to be remembered, why not Vasquez? Tom was not against the idea.

Ultimately, San Jose’s history touches on the problems of today. Tom sees the link between the past and future, because he is concerned with what San Jose is becoming. He is concerned about its youth, and how they will perceive their city, already on its way to becoming a megalopolis, without a sense of continuity. There is a vision here that is meaningful for all of America. The roots of tomorrow lie buried in our yesterdays.

The core of most inner cities in America is decaying under the weight of despair, abandonment and oblivion. San Jose, thanks to its former mayor, has a core that is vital and alive. As the heart of the Silicon Valley, with the eyes of the world upon it, San Jose has more need than ever to remember that it was built by human hands and vision. Two of those hands and much of the vision belong to Tom McEnery.

Let’s name the convention center in his honor, so that our kids may know that this city wasn’t just built on rock and roll. The future belongs to those that can imagine it. Thanks, Tom.

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