Sunday, July 19, 2009

We’ll Give Up “Hillcroft” When You Pry it from Our Cold, Dead Fingers

A Slampo's Place Special Report

We almost choked on our paneek paneer last week while dining at our 3rd or 4th favorite Indian vegetarian restaurant (the one that weirdly proclaims itself “Best in Texas, Good in Houston”) and perusing the Pakistan Chronicle (which weirdly proclaims itself “The newspaper you read”). There, tucked at the bottom of the front page of the July 17 edition, was news of a looming civic atrocity, one of which we theretofore had not been informed: “Hillcroft May Very Well Become Gandhi Avenue.

You read that right: That’s Gandhi, as in Mahatma, who as far as we know was not a Houstonian, not a Texan, not even an American, and, as far as we know, never set foot in Houston, or Texas, or even the United States. Yet, according to the story, “efforts are under way” by some outfit called the India Culture Center to change the name of Hillcroft between Highway 59 and Westpark to honor the long-dead spindly proponent of peaceful resistance and opponent of British imperialism. This supposedly is desired by Indian merchants on that stretch of the many-miles-long street, although none are directly quoted as saying so in the story. (You know that stretch: it’s a good place to get paneek paneer and/or a sari, if you’re in the market for one, and stock up on your Hallel meatstuffs.). According to the newspaper’s un-bylined report

Those who favor [the name change] say that Houston is an international city and should be reflected in the names of the various streets of Houston … Since Hillcroft between Highway 59 and Westpark, [sic] has many international shops and restaurants from South Asia, those in favor of change in name are saying that this section of roadway qualifies for a new name, which can be either Mahatma Gandhi Street or Gandhi Avenue.
But wait—if that's not good enough, there’s another justification:
Also as Gandhi’s name is associated with Non-Violence, that will help to restrain crime and ferocity in the area.
We can just imagine some tattooed, burr-headed cholo declaring, “We’re on Gandhi Avenue now, vato, therefore let us restrain our ferocity and refrain from ripping the gold jewelry from the neck of that middle-aged Indian woman.” It could work.

The red in our neck began to rise as we read this small article. We generally like most native Indians and Pakistans we’ve met in Houston (with a few notable exceptions, such as the surly anti-American Paki-asshole co-owner of the now-shuttered and torn-down Hugo Chavez Fill ’Er-Up out on, yes, Hillcroft, but far south of the “Gandhi Avenue” section). We presume that almost all of them are here legally (we’re sure there’s a few here and there who’ve overstayed a visa in their day), they have entrepreneurial drive, their kids are excellent spellers whose presence is generally a boon to the public schools they attend (with a few exceptions), the ones who are our neighbors keep their yards tidy and mind their own business, and some of the women look really, really fine when dolled up in the spangly jewelry (sorry … just call us “Rajah,” “Rajah of the Jungle”). We even enjoyed those Harold and Kumar movies, the way they turned ethnic and racial stereotypes on their heads. Yet the great, great majority of the “members” of these “communities” have been in Houston for, maybe, 10 or 15 years, 20 at the most, and suddenly they’re muscling in to claim a portion of well-traveled and traffic-choked thoroughfare in the name of “diversity” and “multiculturalism”--a street that already switches its name to “Voss” a little north of the future Gandhi Street. To that we can only say, as compelled to do so by our Franco-Germanic-Scots-Irish-Cherokee-Shanty Irish East Texas-Southwest Louisiana heritage, “Screw that” (trying to be polite). We’d bet our large right gonad—it’s very precious to us--that most of the Indo-Americans who (allegedly) are pushing this change don’t live within miles of Hillcroft, and, most likely, reside in the multicultural Valhalla of Sugar Land (future site of Tom DeLay Middle School).

Apparently we now live in a city where it is offensive to name the panhandling professional soccer team “1836”, after the year that our town’s namesake, the great Sam Houston (a practicing multiculturalist and assimilationist who, as you know, after resigning as governor of Tennessee lived among the Cherokees for six years and took a Cherokee wife) beat down the effete Euro-Hispanic Santa Anna, thus ensuring that today drug cartels are not wantonly shooting up the street of Santa Anna, Tejas (“Home of the Porfirio Diaz Space Center”). But somebody, apparently somebody who hasn’t had a stake on the soil all that long, can propose with a straight face to name a street after someone who had absolutely nothing to do with this town’s history or heritage. At the risk of repeating our self: Screw that.

We feel strongly, perhaps inordinately so, about this naming business. We were not greatly enthused when the school district named the newest eastside high school after Cesar Chavez—couldn’t they have found a local Mexican-American educator or entrepreneur or somebody local with the required Hispanic surname to honor?—but at least Chavez was an American, and the choice was in keeping with a long tradition of naming local streets and institutions after well-known presidential and non-presidential out-of-towners (MLK, of course, and Eisenhower High School and Pershing Middle School and Webster Street and Roy Benavidez Elementary, after the Viet Nam War Medal of Honor winner from El Campo). The district avoided the issue entirely (and correctly) when it dubbed the new westside high school the prosaic but more inclusive “Westside High School” (which is quite a bit more diverse [and English-speaking] than Chavez High). And we’re still puzzled why the city hasn’t taken at least some small step to honor its great and abiding blues heritage by naming something, anything, even a dead-end cul-de-sac, after Sam Hopkins. We’d take some time out of our busy schedule to start a counter-movement to name the targeted stretch of Hillcroft “Lightinin’ Hopkins Avenue,” except that we’re pretty sure that Hopkins didn’t spend a whole lot of time over on Hillcroft. (He might have driven up or down it once or twice late in his day, perhaps when he had a hankering for paneek paneer, which before his passing he reportedly declared to be “some really good shit.”)

Hillcroft seems to be suitably neutral name, too, and we’re sure the name has a history, although we’re damned if we no know it, and we’ve asked around. We’re pretty sure the platting of the street occurred after World War II (for younger readers or recent immigrants, that’s a war the United States fought against fascist Germany and imperial Japan in the 1940s, and many Americans—mostly white men--died in it to keep you from having to goose-step in the Town Square on Hitler’s birthday), and while we see no hills or crofts anywhere along the thoroughfare the name appears to be part of a general faux-Scottish theme among areas and neighborhoods of southwest Houston (“”Braeburn” this and “Braeburn” that, etc.).

Once you start divvying up streets for naming among the town’s many and various ethnicities, where will it stop? Will the Chinese, who already have their street signs in the Chinatown of southwest Houston, petition to have a portion of Bellaire Boulevard named after, say, sawed-off Commie Deng Xiaoping (who, unlike Gandhi, did actually once set foot in Houston)? Here’s the comma-challenged Pakistan Chronicle again:

There are others, who say that since the majority of businesses are South Asian, it will be proper, if both Indian and Pakistani personality names are part of the new name for Hillcroft, like Gandhi- Jinnah Avenue.
Ah, Jesus. Let's just rename the street "Kashmir" and let the Hindus and Muslims fight over it. In a stab at fair and balanced coverage, “the newspaper you read” gives us the other side of the story:
However, there are others, who say feel that this same area has famous businesses belonging to Spanish, Guatemalan, Arab and Persian communities: As such they feel that there is no need to change the name, it should be all inclusive.
Bingo! But according to the P-Chronicle, the idea has the support of at least one elected official, our very own City Councilman-Who-Didn’t-Actually-Live in-The-City-of-Houston-and-Still-May-Not, M.J. Khan, who’s now seeking to become our Controller-Who-May-Not-Actually-Live-in-Houston. Apparently paraphrasing the councilman, the ethnic newspaper says Khan is “favoring the change saying of the people of the area want the name, then it should be changed.” What a pandering weasel. This alone will disqualify him from being honored with our vote in the November election.

By the way, have any of the mayoral candidates mustered the 1/32nd of a gonad necessary to stand up and say, at the risk of offending a teensy-tiny but probably heavy-voting slice of the electorate, “This is a stupid idea!"?


Banjo Jones said...

you are The Man, Slampo.

the Cronkite of the Bloggin Age!

Slampo said...

No, Banjonus, you The Man; we're merely a lil' shaver.

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for Doo-Wa-Diddy Middle School.

Joanie said...

Pure genius this: “We’re on Gandhi Avenue now, vato, therefore let us restrain our ferocity and refrain from ripping the gold jewelry from the neck of that middle-aged Indian woman.”

As I said over on TFG, I can just imagine Danny Trejo delivering that line with conviction.

Robert Boyd said...

"Ah, Jesus. Let's just rename the street "Kashmir" and let the Hindus and Muslims fight over it."

Don't forget the Zep fans!

Chris said...

Growing up Guadalajara, I'll never forget when they changed the name of "Las Aguilas" to "Pablo Neruda", a commie Chilean as my Dad called him. Never a good idea to change street names. Sorta like changing a boat's name - bad karma.

IJ Reilly said...

Wait...are you talking about Voss? I think there used to be a record shop there at the corner of Westheimer.