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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: Let's avoid honoring grim history by renaming street

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Published:   |   Updated: June 26, 2013 at 07:50 AM

What's in a name? Apparently in these hypersensitive times where the word and thought police are listening everywhere, quite a bit.

Things heated up last week after Tampa City Councilwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin proposed changing Nebraska Avenue to Pedro MenÚndez de AvilÚs Avenue.

The idea, as she put it, was to help celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Florida by the Spanish and also as a way of connecting young Tampa Hispanics with the state's Hispanic history.

Capin has been a loud and valuable voice in protecting and promoting Tampa's Hispanic heritage. Sometimes ideas get caught up in the details, such as bickering over whether Seventh Avenue in Ybor City should be "La Septima" or "La Setima."

It was Capin who managed to get the Cuban sandwich declared Tampa's official sandwich along with directions on how to construct one.

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Unfortunately, this proposed name change is one bad idea. Actually, it's two bad ideas rolled into one.

We don't change street names that often, mostly because it costs a lot of money. And when we do there are almost always those who remember why a street had a certain name to begin with and they get upset.

Nebraska Avenue is one of those streets. Today, most of us only know the road as a tired artery that runs from the railroad station north through struggling neighborhoods on out to Lutz.

Apparently the street got its name because of the large number of settlers who came to town from Nebraska in the 1870s. I don't know if there are many around today or how they might feel about losing the name.

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I do know that Nebraskans aren't exactly the swiftest when it comes to naming things. We lived near Omaha for a few years when I was a kid and the big auditorium in town was called "Aksarben." I thought it was some native American word until my mom pointed out it was "Nebraska" backward.

Earlier this year, the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation came down on Florida and St. Augustine for trying to recognize MenÚndez, claiming he was a "war criminal" and one "who committed crimes against humanity."

Maybe it bothers me because my uncle has traced part of our family tree back to French Huguenots who came ashore in the Carolinas in the late 1600s.

Among MenÚndez's exploits was butchering a fort of French settlers in north Florida - men, women and children - and then hanging them from trees.

Capin told reporters that those reports are "revisionist history. ... That's what we Hispanics have been dealing with."

There is more than enough revisionist history out there, but on this number the accounts and documents on MenÚndez are in huge stacks in some warehouse.

The man was a butcher and not a name we need to add to Tampa streets.

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