The Mercury News
Park named after former president gets new title
Chochenyo Park will replace the spot that once honored Andrew Jackson
ALAMEDA >> A park once named in honor of President Andrew Jackson has gotten a new name. It’s now Chochenyo Park, named after a division of the Ohlone nation.
The City Council approved the change Tuesday night after hearing from about two dozen people, many of whom noted that Jackson was a slave owner who adopted harsh policies toward Native Americans, including the relocation to Oklahoma in what became known as The Trail of Tears.
All who weighed in during Tuesday’s online meeting supported the new park name.
Alameda resident Amanda Cooper said she visited places throughout the country known for their indigenous history, such as Taos in New Mexico. Until recently, however, she knew little about the Ohlone in the Bay Area.
“That history has been erased in many ways,” Cooper said. “This is a small way to introduce (that back).”
Fellow Alameda resident Grace Rubenstein, who lives near the park, agreed.
“It’s really an opportunity for the city to do the right thing,” she said about picking a new name.
The change comes amid a national push to remove from public places the names, statues and other tributes to people who espoused racist views or practiced racism.
It also follows Alameda school officials renaming Henry Haight Elementary School to Love school in April 2019, after they learned that Haight, a Civil War Reconstruction-era California governor and former Alameda resident, espoused racist views.
The city’s Recreation and Park Commission recommended Chochenyo as the new name for the former Jackson Park.
Part of the Ohlone, the Chochenyo lived in the East Bay. Chochenyo emerged as their name following the arrival of Europeans; the word is also used to describe their language.
Councilman Tony Daysog cast the lone vote against the change, saying he was concerned the search for potential names was not broad enough and was limited to just “righting historical wrongs.”
People who played a significant part in Alameda’s history should have been included, Daysog said.
“I think we missed an opportunity here,” he said.
But Councilman John Knox White noted that people’s names were among those floated as a new name for the park.
Potential names that rose to the top from about 200 entries were Alameda, Ohlone, Justice and Mabel Tatum, a Black woman who advocated housing rights for low-income city residents in the 1960s.
The names were suggested through surveys and at community gatherings hosted by a committee made up of park commissioners and residents. The committee was created after the council unanimously decided in July to rename the park on Park Avenue between San Jose and Encinal avenues.
The committee looked for names that reflect “inclusion, diversity and equity” and had a strong connection to Alameda or the greater Bay Area, according to Amy Wooldridge, the city’s recreation and parks director.
Jackson Park, originally named Alameda Park, was the city’s only park until May 1909, when three others opened and were each named after presidents — George Washington, William McKinley and Abraham Lincoln.
About the same time, the city renamed Alameda Park after Jackson. City officials say they and local historians don’t know why the park was named after Jackson.
Admirers of Jackson point to his service as a youth in the Revolutionary War and his leadership during the war against Great Britain in 1812, including at the Battle of New Orleans.
During the Dec. 10 park commission meeting that recommended the new name, Commissioner Aimee Barnes said she liked Chochenyo because it would recognize Indigenous people who lived in Alameda before European settlers arrived. Choosing Alameda — a Spanish word for a grove of trees — would be “a nod to Spanish colonizers,” she added.
That sentiment on Tuesday night bothered Councilwoman Trish Herrera Spencer, who said as a Mexican American she did not want Spanish words excluded as names for public places.
“I actually see this as institutional racism,” Spencer said.
An online local petition to rename Jackson Park garnered about 1,200 signatures. The park commission’s Dec. 10 decision to recommend Chochenyo to the council as the new name was unanimous.