More Culture, Please Imagine: Mariachis, Art, History, Poetry


Editorial Page: 10B

By Lou Cobarruviaz and Tom McEnery

Lou Cobarruviaz is San Jose’s police chief, and Tom McEnery is a former San Jose mayor.

”THE streets of this city are safe. It’s only the people that make them unsafe.” This strange utterance came out of the mouth of a police chief and later mayor of Philadelphia. The balance that a city strikes between public safety and the people’s right to assemble and celebrate is a delicate one.

Now that San Jose’s largest festival, Cinco de Mayo, is over, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. The festival itself went well, but unfortunately it was marred with incidents of violence shortly after it ended. We are grateful that no one was killed or seriously hurt. Our kudos to the festival organizers, the police and all who worked hard to make the event a success. Our very diverse city must allow for the celebrations of all of our various cultures. This is part of our city’s beauty and strength.

We celebrate the Japanese Obon festival, the Greek festival, Irish week and many other events. This year, one of the Vietnamese Tet festivals will be downtown. It will be wonderful to have the New Year’s dragon leading the parade down Market Street, bringing good luck to all in the city.

Certainly the Hispanic community should continue to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and the 16th de Septiembre downtown if the safety of citizens can be guaranteed. The question is, can we guarantee safety if we continue to bring a group the size of the City of Sacramento the downtown on warm spring days?

We think we can, and are pleased to see that the American GI Forum, the Downtown Association and city officials agreed to make the event less of a party and more of a cultural celebration, as they work to control the size of the crowds. It is also an absolute necessity to de-emphasize tobacco and liquor at the festivals.

There is much that our Latino communities can be proud of, and much that can be emphasized in a positive way for families and youth, not only during festivals but all year.

As fellow lovers of history, we feel there is a need for more emphasis on the culture of the Californianos and the Mexicans who once made up the Pueblo de San Jose deGuadalupe. When we had breakfast together recently, we thought the lower part of the downtown Pavilion shops should be converted into a large open interior plaza with restaurants and shops, with strolling mariachis and Spanish and Mexican goods. The exterior of the center could capture the flavor of early California. The history of the region could be displayed on interior walls. Perhaps we could even have a Mexican-Irish restaurant!

We cannot just downscale the Cinco de Mayo festival or move it offshore to the fairgrounds. Instead, we should do more to capture the culture, spirit and soul of the courageous Mexicans who fought for independence at Puebla, as well as the Mexican-Americans who fought for American freedom.

Perhaps there could be a wall of honor with photographs of all the Mexican-Americans who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Few know that Mexican-Americans, in proportion to their numbers in the military, have received more Medals of Honor than any other group. Education and business leaders could also be honored.

The parade is already very beautiful. Perhaps it could be enhanced. Mexican and Chicano art, sculpture, music, history and poetry could all be part of the festival. Walking tours could show everyone the important sites of the Pueblo de San Jose. ”El Grito,” the cry of liberty, could be given at a specific time on Sept. 16 at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

Partnerships have made our valley. A linkage with the Children’s Discovery Museum, the Tech Museum of Innovation and the Museum of Art could produce shows and exhibits that herald the richness of Mexican culture. Noting that two of these museums were designed by a Mexican architect might inspire a young Latino or Latina to become the next Ricardo Legoretta.

As a recent editorial stated, we have the most outstanding Mexican Folkloric Dance company in the country right here in San Jose. Let’s showcase them! The Rep could produce plays spotlighting Mexican culture, and Cinequest could stage a Hispanic Film Festival. Intersperse all this with the sound of canciones, and we have a scene symbolizing a great people and remarkable city.

And we don’t have to go back far in history to find heroes to honor. Sixty years ago the pioneering efforts of Ernesto Galarza at San Jose State University encouraged a young organizer who lived in an Eastside barrio known as Sal Si Puedes (”get out if you can”). The organizer’s name was Cesar Chavez, and the lives of this educator and this secular saint could be the grist of many dramatic and educational efforts. Why not enlist our own writer/director Luis Valdez to honor them with a spectacular new work?

In the words of Valdez, ”The future belongs to those who can imagine it.” We propose this: Imagine a festival that is cultural, beautiful and historic, where everyone, including families and children, can feel safe. Let’s move toward a better Cinco de Mayo, a celebration worthy of the proud people of San Jose.

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