By: Therese Gallegos, Mark Kaswan, and Christina Patiño Houle
Six months ago, Antonio Castillo stood in front of the Jefferson Davis Memorial at Washington Park in downtown Brownsville talking about his petition to move the monument from a major city park to a museum. Castillo started an online petition years before, but despite having more than 5,000 signatures, he had not been able to get the City of Brownsville’s support.
Then, in late November 2017, the city held a town hall meeting and created an online poll to seek public input on the matter. The data clearly indicated that the public supported moving the monument. Thirty-five of 60 online participants and 22 of 31 in-person comments supported the move. Speaking after the City Commissioner meeting at which the Parks Department presented the public input data, Mayor Tony Martinez stated, “I looked at the results, and quite frankly it seems…that [people] want to move it. But as to where or when or how is a little bit up in the air.”
To this end, Frontera Progressives and Arte Cívico Circle are continuing the public conversation. As members of these organizations, together with other concerned residents, we are holding a public forum on the Jefferson Davis Memorial on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at 7 PM at the Brownsville Central Library.
Though there was a clear majority of votes to move the monument from Washington Park, residents seemed divided on what should happen to the memorial afterward. Of the 22 in-person comments at the November town hall in support of moving the monument, 10 supported a relocation to a museum, eight supported a relocation to Veteran’s Park and four wanted complete removal. We think it would be helpful for the City Commission if members of the community came together to have an informed discussion about what should be done with the monument if it is moved.
Determining the future of the monument, if it is removed from Washington Park, is not the only purpose of our event. We’re doing this because it seems that the debate around the Jefferson Davis Memorial has generated a lot of heat but not much light. Largely missing has been any kind of social or historical context for the debate. The program is also intended to provide a historical overview of racial oppression in the Rio Grande Valley. Racism and white supremacy have not just affected African Americans, but Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, too. That’s something people here in the Valley have experienced, but it is rarely discussed.
The evening’s presenters include Stephanie Alvarez, Associate Professor of the UTRGV Mexican American Studies program and spearhead of the San Juan movement to rename Mayfield Park; Christopher Carmona, Faculty Affiliate of the UTRGV Mexican American Studies Program and organizer with the Refusing to Forget Project; and investigative journalist and best selling author, Debbie Nathan.
After the presentations by the featured speakers, attendees will break into small groups so they can talk with each other, not at each other. Following small group discussions, participants will vote on their preferred option for the future of the monument. Those options and votes will be presented to the city following the event.
We are at a pivotal moment in the history of our region and hope this event can be an opportunity for residents to come together and decide how we want to define our city, what we want it to be.
Race and Racism in the Rio Grande Valley: A Public Forum on the Jefferson Davis Memorial will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 27 from 7 PM to 8:30 PM at the Brownsville Public Library, Main Branch (2600 Central Blvd.). The program is free and open to the public. Spanish translation will be provided for the lecture presentation and break out groups will be facilitated in Spanish and English. The event is collaboratively produced by concerned community members, Frontera Progressives, and Arte Cívico Circle.
Frontera Progressives was founded in July 2017 to educate and engage the energy of the community to support progressive values. Arte Cívico Circle engages with the meaning and purpose of civic art in Brownsville, Texas.