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7 heritage sites with deep cultural and historical roots to Latinos are in need of preservation, group says

By Nicole Chavez, CNN

A historic neighborhood threatened by plans for a sports arena, a bodega that became a hub for Dominicans in Rhode Island and a park where Mexican American students gathered to call for equitable access to education.

Those locations are among the seven Latino heritage sites that preservation scholars say are in need of protection due to their deep cultural and historical ties to the Latino community in the United States.

In a report released earlier this week, the Latino Heritage Scholars, an initiative of the Hispanic Access Foundation, said the sites in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Texas are currently threatened by multiple factors, including weathering of structures, development plans and gentrification.

Locations that embody the contributions of Latinos and their history are not often protected by federal laws and entities, said Manuel Galaviz, co-author of the report and an anthropologist at The University of Texas at Austin. He previously authored the nomination of Chicano Park in San Diego as a National Historic Landmark, which was approved by the Department of the Interior in 2017.

“Even though for generations Latinos have continued to prove they are essential to the United States, sites that commemorate Latino heritage are disproportionately excluded when it comes to officially designated heritage and conservation sites,” Galaviz said in a statement.

While the list does not include all of the sites that can tell the complete history and contributions of Latinos in the US, the report states, the authors hope it will highlight the significance of Latino culture and motivate people to learn about other sites.

These are the sites listed in the report:

The ancestral home of the Comanche and Apache

Castner Range is an area of 7,081 acres in El Paso, Texas, that many describe as the “crown jewel” of the Franklin Mountains for its historical and natural importance.

Indigenous people in the region consider it sacred land. It’s the ancestral home to the Comanche and Apache people and has “significant ancient rock imagery sites, ancient cultural deposits,” the report and local groups said. The site was also used as a testing site for large caliber artillery and high explosives in the 20th century.

Conservation groups and politicians have been advocating for the site to gain national monument status for years.

In April, Rep. Veronica Escobar of Texas introduced legislation aimed at designating Castner Range as a national monument. It has been referred to the committees on National Resources and Armed Services. A similar bill was previously introduced in Congress by former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke in 2015.

The Hispanic Access Foundation previously recommended in a similar report published in 2017 that Castner Range will be considered for preservation along nine other sites in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

A key site for the Chicano movement

Hazard Park was one of the places where thousands of Chicano high school students gathered in 1968 after they walked out of their classrooms to protest poor conditions in schools, lack of college prep courses and poorly trained teachers.

It contributed to “one of the most significant youth-led Chicano social movements” — the East Los Angeles Walkouts, also known as Blowouts — and became a place where Mexican Americans overcame racial discrimination in sports.

Before World War II, primarily White baseball teams played at Hazard Park but afterward, Mexican American teams “began to proliferate and claim space” there,” the report states.

A ‘truly’ binational neighborhood in the US-Mexico border

The historic first neighborhood of El Paso, Texas, called Duranguito has been at the center of a years-long battle over its preservation.

The downtown area, close-knit neighborhood of brick-and-stucco buildings, Victorian homes and abandoned markets welcomed Mexican historical figures like Pancho Villa and Francisco I. Madero who were key in the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

“Due to its proximity to the border, Duranguito has always been an appropriate place where people on both sides of the US/Mexico border travel, work, and live back and forth between countries. The neighborhood is truly a binational place,” the report says.

In recent years, residents have protested, filed lawsuits opposing the city’s intentions to build a sports arena in the neighborhood and advocated for a historical designation for the neighborhood, CNN affiliate KVIA reported.

A park that saved a Mexican American neighborhood

Chepa’s Park is at the heart of the oldest Mexican American neighborhood in Santa Ana, California.

The park is named after Josephina “Chepa” Andrade, a community activist who fought back along with other community members when city officials wanted to turn the predominantly Mexican American neighborhood into an industrial neighborhood in the late 1960s. They founded a park and saved the neighborhood, the report said.

The park was originally named Logan Park but was renamed in March 2008 to honor Andrade’s activism.

A bodega that became a symbol for Latinos in Rhode Island

Fefa’s Market was the first Dominican-owned bodega to open in Providence, Rhode Island in the mid-1960s and its owner was seen as the “start of the Latinos community” in the state.

Every two weeks, owner Josefina Rosario, also known as Doña Fefa, and her husband would travel to New York to restock the bodega and encourage people to move to Providence, according to a 2019 city resolution recognizing Rosario’s legacy.

The couple “are remembered by many people who say they sponsored their families to come to the United States; gave them free room and board until they were able to find jobs; and made sure that they had everything they needed,” according to Nuestras Raíces: The Latino Oral History Project of Rhode Island.

“She was seen as the start of the Latino community in Rhode Island, especially in paving the way for Latino business owners and entrepreneurs in the State,” the resolution said.

A transborder park uniting families

Friendship Park has been the site of numerous family reunions along the US-Mexico border.

Located partly in Southern California and partly in Tijuana, Mexico, thousands of people visit the park to meet friends and family who can’t cross the border and connect with them through the steel meshed fences diving the two countries.

One of the centerpieces of the park is a mural of an upside-down American flag over the border wall, which juts out into the Pacific.

Friendship Park was inaugurated by First Lady Patricia Nixon in 1971, when loosely placed barbed wire separated the two countries.

When Nixon arrived at the park, she asked her security to cut the wire, so she could visit with a crowd of Mexican citizens. “I hope there won’t be a fence here too much longer,” she said at the time.

Since 1971, the fence at Friendship Park has only gotten bigger, having gone through two iterations — one in 1994 and then again in 2007. Most recently it was reinforced with metal mesh in 2012.

A river in the Southwest

The Gila River stretches 600 miles from New Mexico to Arizona and has been considered “the lifeblood” for numerous Indigenous communities and Hispanic settlers for more than 1,000 years.

It has been “the lifeblood for numerous human civilizations, a host of endangered, threatened, and endemic species, agricultural and recreational, activities, and a valuable and unique landscape for geological study,” according to the report.

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