Vicente Fernandez’s street naming pits accomplishments against sins

Bailey Street passes Mariachi Plaza, where mariachis hang out to be hired, before ending at White Memorial Hospital.

This section of it is all one block long. Besides the square, it is bordered by a parking lot and a few houses.

But the unassuming Boyle Heights street has become a flashpoint for conflicting opinions about legendary Mexican ranchera singer Vicente Fernández, who died in December at the age of 81.

A proposal to rename the block after the very popular and beloved Fernández has faced opposition from residents and activists who cite his homophobic remarks and allegations that he sexually harassed a woman.

Well beyond In the Eastside, Latinos around the world weep “Chente,” reminding others to heed his missteps or, in some cases, reconcile their own mixed feelings.

The divisions revealed by Fernández’s death are already familiar to those who express differences on issues such as COVID-19 vaccinations, the term “Latinx” and how much to denounce the behavior of elders steeped in the old school. male chauvinism culture.

How to commemorate Chente, his flaws and all, is the latest manifestation of a tense generational and ideological debate among Latinos.

Kevin de León, the Los Angeles City Councilman who represents the area, called Fernández the “jefe of jefes » in a motion he submitted to his colleagues to rename Bailey Street between First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

But some members of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council were surprised by the proposal.

De León had moved forward without consulting them, they said, relying instead on comments from pro-Fernández mariachis.

Bailey Street passes Mariachi Plaza, where mariachis meet to be hired.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

In a draft letter to De León, members of the neighborhood council’s planning and land use committee referenced a 2012 television interview in which Fernández said he had refused a liver transplant because he feared the donor was a “gay or a drug addict”.

The letter also cited a 2021 report that the singer, who won three Grammys, eight Latin Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, groped a young woman.

The proposed street renaming controversy was first reported by Boyle Heights Beat and LA Taco.

“Kevin de León’s office ignored us and instead reached out to mariachis and mariachi businesses and got a really skewed perspective of what the community wanted,” said David Silvas, vice chairman of the board.

Silvas, 36, is a real estate agent and vice president of the nonprofit Boyle Heights Community Partners, which works to preserve historic buildings.

He is of Hungarian and Romanian descent and lives in Glassell Park but has deep roots in Boyle Heights – his great-grandfather moved there in the 1920s.

He said he opposed the name change because he wanted “more inclusion” for Boyle Heights residents and respect for those who have often been ignored, especially LGBTQ people.

Carlos Montes, who sits on the neighborhood council, tackled Fernández’s shortcomings.

Montes, 74, is a longtime Chicano activist and founding partner of the Brown Berets. He was a key organizer of the Chicano Moratorium and East LA student strikes.

Fernández should be honored despite his flaws, he said.

“Honestly, not naming the street after Vicente would be an outrage and would make us look bad locally and internationally,” said Montes, a longtime resident of Boyle Heights. “We support LGBTQ+ rights, but there are better ways to do that than just throwing away the accomplishments of a major cultural hero who is loved here.”

Eddie Martinez, executive director of the Latino Equity Alliance in Boyle Heights, weighed Fernández’s sentimental value against his bad behavior and came out the other side.

The alliance, which defends LGBTQ rights and advocates for young people, opposes the street being named after Fernández.

“It’s tough for someone who is queer and brown and loves music,” said Martinez, 53, who is also vice mayor of Huntington Park. “My mom is a big, big fan, and the music is awesome. But I don’t like these comments, and we have to admit that they are problematic.

At a Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council meeting on January 26, dozens of residents voted in favor of the name change, with six opposed.

A resident, Mari Garcia, said she wanted Fernández to join Cesar Chavez as Latino icons, with the streets of Boyle Heights named after them.

The council voted to refer the draft letter opposing Vicente Fernández Street to its Land Use Committee, which will develop a general policy on the street name change.

De León declined to be interviewed by The Times.

His chief of staff, Jennifer Barraza, said the adviser plans to move forward with the name change. The proposal has been forwarded to the city council’s public works committee, which will investigate the cost and number of new signs that would be needed.

Staff members spoke to businesses and residents around Bailey Street and “received no criticism,” Barraza said.

A person drives a scooter down Bailey Street

A proposal to rename Bailey Street after Vicente Fernández faced opposition from residents and activists who cite his homophobic remarks and allegations that he sexually harassed a woman.

(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

Fernández was a human being — flawed like any other — who comforted Latino immigrants during their harsh journeys, she said.

“For Latino families in Los Angeles and around the world, he made us proud of who we are,” Barraza said. “He saw us when the rest of the world pretended we were invisible.”

At the Mariachi Plaza on a recent afternoon, singer Maricela Martinez spoke about Fernández’s legacy while waiting for her next concert. She was so moved by the proposed name change that she cried when she heard about it.

“I don’t know a mariachi in Boyle Heights or anywhere else that doesn’t play at least one of his songs,” said Martinez, 40, founder of the all-female Mariachi Lindas Mexicanas. “You hear his name and his music every day, at every gig, every hour.”

Fernández represents a male chauvinism in Mexican culture that “changes too slowly,” she said.

But he also strengthened her as a young girl, making her believe that her dreams were possible. Her father was a mariachi, but she always thought the job wasn’t for girls.

At a concert in Juarez, Mexico when she was 12, Fernández brought her on stage and they sang “Hermoso Cariño” together.

“Being up there made me think I could be a mariachi in a time when girls weren’t mariachis,” she said.

For some immigrants, Fernández’s music speaks to their longing for a better life in the United States—and the emotional toll that resulted.

Marisol, 22, a Boyle Heights resident who has temporary legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, cried repeatedly while listening to “Los Mandados” — possibly the immigration ballad Fernandez’s most famous.

“When you grow up on the Eastside, you meet so many immigrants who are struggling to get by,” said Marisol, who did not want to give her last name due to concerns about her status. immigration. “This song speaks to many in this community and across the country.”

She is disappointed by the allegations of sexual harassment. But “Fernández’s life should not be defined by a mistake, but by all the people he inspired,” she said.

For two decades, master tailor Jorge Tello has sewn mariachi outfits and other traditional Mexican attire at La Casa Del Mariachi near First and Bailey. The sewing shop and other small businesses have suffered from the pandemic.

“I understand why some people are upset, but this is good news and much needed publicity for small shops, restaurants and mariachi bands,” Tello said.

Boyle Heights native Matthew Nava recites poetry in the plaza and worked as a barback at Eastside Luv, a nightclub near Mariachi Plaza, from 2008 to 2010.

Nava, 36, supports the name change, ideally with a plaque detailing Fernández’s successes and shortcomings.

At the club, his clientele was mostly made up of American-born Latinos. The music was also mostly American – punk, rock, hip-hop and rap.

Still, the parties usually ended with a Fernández classic – “Volver, Volver” or “El Rey”.

Times writers Priscella Vega and Christie D’Zurilla contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button