It's not a new request. Take the name "Lock'' from Lock Street, the main thoroughfare in Tommytown, the largely Hispanic community just north of Dade City. Last week, Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help, again asked the Pasco County Commission to change the street's name as a way of cementing a positive change in the neighborhood's image.
"It has locked us in, now you've liberated us,'' Romo told commissioners in thanking them for the ongoing multimillion-dollar redevelopment that is bringing new streets, lights, sidewalks and drainage to the low-income area.
But, for the third time this decade, the commission failed to approve her pitch, citing the historical reference to the Locks, a pioneering east Pasco family. Except this time Commission Chairman Jack Mariano added his own rationale.
"I think it also sends a good message that we want to keep our streets named in the English language as well,'' Mariano said at the commission meeting. "I think it shows more coming together.''
A good message to whom? Certainly not to the people of Pasco County, where the Spanish language is tapped frequently for street and road names. Twenty-six streets begin with San, including San Carlos, San Felipe, San Miguel and San Salvador. Nineteen street names begin with El and 13 with La, the Spanish words for "the.''
Romo said Tuesday she didn't hear Mariano's comment from the dais or "I would have been back up there yelling.'' Rightly so. It wasn't an English vs. Spanish debate. It was about a community's unrealized desire to move forward.
In 2000, Romo asked a different commission to add Calle de Milagros (Spanish for Street of Miracles) to the Lock Street signs to reflect the community spirit that had evolved into neighborhood cleanups and crime watch vigils in anticipation of the coming federal aid for redevelopment. She withdrew the request amid racist comments from an audience that inexplicably drew no commission rebuke.
Four years later, Romo asked to kill the Lock Street name altogether and this time, in a compromise, commissioners gave her what she had wanted four years earlier — dual street signs — but only after lamenting Calle de Milagros was hard to pronounce and could hinder emergency responders.
Last week, Romo repeated the plea to remove the Lock Street name, saying it was a disservice to the Lock family, an identity for a street gang LSG (Lock Street Gang) and a reminder of Tommytown's lingering image of a haven for criminal activity. Told of Mariano's comment, Romo said she wasn't seeking an exclusive Spanish name. She wanted Street of Miracles to be the English name of the street as a show of inclusiveness.
Throughout the debate, the requests for the street-name change have come from within the community while resistance has come from outsiders. Commissioners routinely cite Lock Street business owners as objecting, but those sentiments are never mouthed at public meetings.
Three requests in less than nine years, and a promise from Romo to return again, should tell commissioners the street name cannot be resolved with lip service, particularly when they are focusing on lips speaking English.
Historical preservation is important, but commissioners would do well to honor the people who live in Tommytown now, rather than those from a century ago.