Let’s Name It ‘Alameda Chochenyo Park’
Let’s Name It ‘Alameda Chochenyo Park’
Rasheed Shabazz seems to enjoy quoting me out of context. In his opinion piece last week (“Did the City Officially Name Its First Park ‘Alameda Park?’” Jan. 7), he characterizes me as “insisting the [Jackson] park name ‘revert’ to Alameda Park.” As he knows but neglects to say, I go on to advocate a more inclusive name in the context of competing narratives about the park. By the way, I love “Chochenyo.”
Anyone interested in accuracy can refer to “Thoughts on the Naming of a Park,” a document containing two of the emails I sent him along with Sanborn maps. I make the case for the park’s original name and outline my narratives. The document is posted on Next Door as well as the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society website.
Beyond blowing off some steam I wanted to do this piece as a way of talking about the name “Alameda,” which has played prominently in the proceedings of the Park Naming Committee. For some reason it seems to present them with a problem. Though the name “Alameda Park” topped the chart in a community poll, the committee decided not to include it in the list of finalists. Why?
I’ve looked at the question from any number of angles. Let me begin by stepping back and taking a long view. To assess a society’s place on the spectrum of good and evil is a question of cultural analysis, involving a multitude of values — an accounting undertaken by every generation in search of historical truth and social justice.
Such an analysis might lead, for example, to the conclusion that the Spanish colonial and American pioneer cultures of California were fundamentally evil due to factors like the decimation of indigenous peoples, the exclusion of Chinese immigrants, and the despoliation of the environment. If we agree that the era was irredeemably corrupt, do we concur that the place-names that arose during that era are also corrupt — indelibly stained by provenance and association?
The logic of this premise would delegitimize most place-names in California, including the city, the county and the state. Such a stance is understandable in the context of a widely shared judgment of evil, as in names and symbols associated with the Confederacy and thus with slav¬ery, or, from a Leninist perspective, the revolutionary renaming of Russian cities. In California the situation is less clear. The demonic dimensions of our history are more generic, partaking of the sins of the nation at large.
This brings us to “Alameda.” The Park Naming Committee, in its argument against the name, states that its historical context “represents a period of time when colonization and segregation were Alameda’s realities.”
We should note that the name was adopted by town and county in 1853, toward the end of the Gold Rush. It was an era of racial animus and genocidal purging of tribal lands. The town had no part in this activity, however; the native people had long since been displaced by the Spanish.
Another rationale for rejection: “Alameda Park came from Alfred A. Cohen, an English immigrant who developed this land into the Alameda Park semi-private garden for residents in 1867 which demon¬strates Alameda’s history of colo¬nization of indigenous lands and it not being open to all people.” The thought here seems to be that since Cohen was an immigrant, he was perforce a colonizer.
If immigrants were colonizers, when did colonization end? When did they cease being complicit? In the second generation, the third, the fourth? Or is the committee suggest¬ing that the entire post-indigenous history of Alameda is a tainted nar¬rative of colonization? If so, the judg¬ment applies to the nation, calling into question its place on the spec¬trum of good and evil and its very legitimacy. Cultural critics such as the Native American scholar Vine Deloria, Jr., have so argued.
As a radical Dem socialist I share the sentiment about “No Trespassing” signs. I applaud the committee for taking on capital¬ism and private property, but why single out the Alameda Park tract? The entire city is tracts.
Before leaving Cohen, we should note that he came from a Jewish family that owned slaves in the Caribbean. He was nine years old when they were freed, depleting the family’s fortune. He struck out on his own as a teen and his wealth flowed from enterprise. He also despised slavery, marrying into a prominent abolitionist family.
The committee concludes with the claim that the name “would high¬light the negative historic stories of Alameda and would restrict growth as a community as we would be stuck in the past.” While I agree with the desire to look forward and redress wrongs, I still don’t understand the demonization of “Alameda.” Persistent bias led the committee to reject it for no good reason, need¬lessly alienating many in town.
There’s a simple way to heal the rift — just add “Alameda” to “Chochenyo” in the new name. “Alameda Chochenyo Park” (no hyphen) would honor past and pres¬ent, old and new, in a way that is inclusive and respectful to the entire community. Placing “Alameda” before “Chochenyo” scans well and makes grammatical sense as a modifier for a particular branch of the East Bay Ohlone. It also pays homage to the historical precedents of nomenclature and chronology.
But I defer to tribal representa¬tives. The final say belongs to the Chochenyo, stewards of the forest and keepers of the land.
Woody Minor is an Alameda writer and historian