UNION CITY -- A proposal to rename Alvarado Middle School has sparked controversy within New Haven Unified, with one side urging the school board to honor the city's large Filipino community, while opponents say that would detract from the area's diversity and drain funds from an already cash-strapped district.
The issue came to a boil Tuesday at a crowded and contentious school board meeting, as the majority of about 200 people there supported renaming the school after Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, two Filipino-Americans who worked alongside Cesar Chavez while leading the state's farm labor movement in the 1960s. Itliong and Vera Cruz are now deceased.
Last summer, board members considered naming its
"We had a lengthy discussion then over the idea of naming a school that represented the diversity of our district," McVeigh said. "So school board President Linda Canlas brought back the idea of renaming a school in January. Itliong and Vera Cruz have been floated as names for the past 13 years, so it's not as if the Filipino community just suddenly started advocating for them."
After Canlas, who said she supports honoring the Filipino-American leaders, proposed the renaming two months ago, the board formed a 10-member Facility Names Committee
Several New Haven schools have been named after individuals who reflect Union City's diversity: Cesar Chavez Middle, Tom Kitayama Elementary, Guy Emanuele Elementary and Delaine Eastin Elementary.
None of New Haven's schools are named after a Filipino-American, even though 1 out of every 5 Union City residents is of Filipino heritage, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. If the district chooses to honor Itliong and Vera Cruz, it would become the nation's first to name a school after a Filipino-American, said Mel Orpilla, president of the Filipino American National Historical Association.
Maria Inciong, a longtime Union City resident, said she supports the renaming. "I did not learn the history of Filipino-Americans in the farmworker movement until I attended UCLA, and that's unfortunate," said Inciong, a Filipino-American whose son attends a Union City elementary school. "The school renaming has come up before, but it always gets set aside, and once again the Filipino-American contribution is not acknowledged."
But opponents of the change, such as parent Anju Sharma, said the issue will divide students, focusing on their differences instead of what they have in common.
"We are so diverse; that's the beautiful thing about Union City," said Sharma, an immigrant from India. "We all need to be honored; how do we decide who matters and who doesn't matter? I see children being divided over this."
Others say they oppose it because Alvarado, a community that formed in the 1850s, is a big part of the Tri-City area's tradition. It also was one of two communities -- Decoto was the other -- that combined when Union City incorporated in 1959.
Alvarado Middle School, which has 1,419 students attending grades 6 through 8, is at 31604 Alvarado Blvd., on the western side of the city, whose population is 69,516. Supporters of the name change say the community's tradition will live on with Alvarado Elementary, a campus next to the middle school with the same name. Some proponents say they see a double standard in Union City, where next week the sports center will be renamed for former Mayor Mark Green -- who is white -- without any of the controversy dogging the proposals to honor Itliong and Vera Cruz.
Renaming the school will cost the district around $10,000, said Akur Varadarajan, New Haven's chief business officer. Some opponents say now is not the time for the district to pay that tab when, like many districts statewide, it still is making budget cuts. The city's Filipino-American community has offered to hold fundraisers to offset those fees, said Joe Ku'e Angeles, a James Logan High School counselor who favors the renaming.
"We should not put a price tag on diversity," he said.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.