More than a hundred community members attended a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss the possible renaming of Alvarado Middle School.
The district has proposed renaming the middle school after Filipino American labor leaders Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, contemporaries of Cesar Chavez who fought for the rights of farm workers.
About 50 people signed up to speak on the matter. Board officials, however, limited the number of speakers to 10 in support and 10 in opposition, upsetting some who felt the board’s action was stifling the public hearing process. After a short recess to sort out speakers, members of the public approached the podium one-by-one.
The meeting drew an overwhelming number of supporters including members of Filipino Advocates for Justice and the New Haven Pilipino American Society for Education, as well as political leaders such as Union City councilman Jim Navarro and representatives for assemblymembers Bill Quirk and Rob Bonta.
Though Bonta, the first Filipino American in California legislature, does not represent Union City, he recently authored Assembly Bill 123 to push for Filipino American history to be taught in California public schools. Bonta highlights Itliong and Vera Cruz and their role in the farm labor movement as inspiring him to draft the bill.
“Naming the school in their honor will be a great testament to their work,” a representative for Bonta said Tuesday night.
Other supporters agreed, noting that the new name would celebrate the community’s diversity, raise more awareness about Filipino Americans — often labeled “the invisible minority” — and instill a sense of community pride.
“We can be learners today and leaders tomorrow,” one teenager said.
Though outnumbered, opponents took to the podium to voice their concerns, which ranged from preserving Union City’s history to the cost the already cash-strapped district may incur if the school changed its name.
Alvarado Middle School athletics department head Veronica Moreno said the name change would have a significant impact on the school’s budget.
“What am I going to do about this?” Moreno said, pointing to an Alvarado Middle School t-shirt — one of thousands in her inventory. “Every piece of clothing we do not sell is a piece of equipment we don’t get to order. It’s not financially responsible.”
Addressing the issue of cost, PASE member Joe Angeles said, “We should not put a price tag on diversity.”
Among the most vocal supporters of the name change was school board president Linda Canlas.
“Filipino Americans have been in California since the 1500s. That’s over 500 years ago. How long do we have to wait?” Canlas said. “It’s just one school. We’re not naming the United States.”
If the school were renamed, it would fall in with the diversity already represented by New Haven’s school names.
Other schools are named after Tom Kitayama, Union City’s first mayor and the first Japanese American in public office in California; Delaine Eastin, the first woman elected as State Superintendent; and labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez.
According to board officials, it took 12 years to rename New Haven Middle School after Chavez.
Board member Jonas Dino said that the idea of renaming a school after Itliong and Vera Cruz has been in discussion for the past 13 years that he’s been in office.
In the end, board members agreed that further discussion was required before a decision could be made as some residents expressed concerns over a lack of information.
According to community members, many were notified about the possible name change via an automated recorded phone call from the school district.
“More information needs to get out,” Dino, a Filipino American, said. “I think everyone needs to step back and start talking with each other, and I think we can find a solution that will help everyone.”
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