City divided over renaming streets for civil rights icons

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — A proposal to rename Roswell streets after Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez has divided officials and residents.

City councilors flung accusations of racial and ethnic bias while discussing the proposal during a meeting earlier this week.

City Councilor Juan Oropesa says he believes opponents are against the idea because of the race, ethnicity of the two civil rights figures.

“They don’t want it because those are the two individuals,” Oropesa said of Chavez and King.

Councilor Jeanine Corn Best, however, denies the opposition has to do with race.

“Naming new streets make more sense,” said Corn Best, chair of the Infrastructure Committee. “Naming a street that is already named is incorrect.”

City Councilor Caleb Grant said no business owners on the two streets in the current proposal support the renaming. Some merchants said they would have to get all new business cards, letterhead and other materials with their company address. Others expressed concern about the cost of new street signs. Bobby Villegas, a local businessman, said the Hispanic community would raise money to change street signs.

Grant said he would approve of naming a new street “down the road.”

The full council plans to debate the issue in December after a decision on the city’s street naming policy is resolved, the Roswell Daily Record reported ( ).

Residents attending the meeting also reflected the divisiveness stirred by the renaming. Villegas, who is Hispanic, said the city’s population has become more and more Latino. Naming a street after Chavez would “support us for the sake of our kids, for our future,” he said.

But other residents, such as Cleta Coen, believe the renaming is excessive. Roswell already has a park named after King, Coen said.

“I don’t see any benefit of changing the names,” Coen said.

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