By Melody Yan
On the heels of an ongoing national effort to dismantle statues of controversial historical figures, a name-change campaign to replace Phelan Avenue at Ocean Campus is gaining momentum.
Faculty members Leslie Simon and Ann Wettrich are spearheading the effort to rename Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way. The campaign surfaced three years ago following disclosure that James Phelan, who served as mayor of San Francisco from 1897-1902, was anti-Japanese and anti-Chinese, and actively involved in the movement to restrict Japanese immigration.
The initiative to rename Phelan Avenue to Frida Kahlo Way began in the Introduction to Museum Studies class co-instructed by Simon and Wettrich. The course included a field trip to see Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural housed in the Diego Rivera Theatre.
Kahlo, best known for her self-portrait paintings and long-time relationship with Rivera, is central to Rivera’s 10-panel fresco mural.
“She’s an iconic representation of the mural itself,” said Simon.
“In general, locally and nationally historical women are underrepresented when it comes to having monuments and buildings named after them. We thought it would be great to bring attention to a figure who was related to the Diego Rivera mural, and so it makes sense to call it Frida Kahlo Way,” said Wettrich.
To date, the name-change campaign has received unanimous support from the Associated Students, the Academic Senate, AFT 2121, and the Department Chair’s Council.
“I feel like it is time for a change,” said Tameem Tutakhil, Associated Student Council president. “There haven’t been many streets that I know that are named after women. [Kahlo] was a revolutionary who has contributed a lot to history.”
In order for the name-change to occur, the college, Riordan High School and the surrounding neighborhood must all be in support of the initiative. Once this is achieved, Supervisor Norman Yee said he would introduce a resolution before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
The cost to City College and Riordan High School would be minimal, as the city would pay for the new street signs.
In recent years, people have questioned maintaining statues and monuments of historical figures who held racist ideals.
“Some people will say that you’re erasing history, but we’re trying to make history more honest,” Simon said. “Those who are removing confederate statues want to put them in museums and study them.”
“I’ve taught about women in the arts for 25 years, and when I introduced Frida Kahlo to students they really embraced her,” Simon said. “Chicano artists are reclaiming her. She suffered from disability, experiencing polio and infertility. She had a lot of obstacles in her life and yet she was resilient.”