Group Seeks to Name Park After a Mexican President

Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times, May 30, 2006

When Oaxacan immigrants came to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, they settled in what’s now known as Pico-Union and Koreatown.

One of the few things they brought with them was a love of basketball that borders on obsession.

This is especially true among Zapotec Indians from the Oaxacan mountain range known as the Sierra Juarez in southern Mexico.

“Our fever,” Otomi Dominguez, a highland Zapotec, calls the sport.

Immigrant life took shape around the basketball court in Normandie Park, at Venice Boulevard and Normandie Avenue. Teams evolved into hometown associations. Today, the village clubs hold tournaments across Southern California to raise money for public works projects back home.

Inspired by their strong ties to the park, a coalition of Oaxacan immigrant groups has begun a campaign to rename it in honor of former Mexican President Benito Juarez, a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca popularly regarded as the Abraham Lincoln of Mexico.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Juarez’s birth.

“By the end of the bicentennial year, we’d like to have the park renamed,” said Martha Ugarte, spokeswoman for the Federation of Communities and Indian Organizations in California.

So far, the group has collected more than 2,000 signatures and met with City Councilman Ed Reyes, whose 1st District includes the park. Reyes said he likes the idea but wants to gauge support in the community, once predominantly African American but now made up largely of Mexican, Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Korean immigrants.

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Successful or not, the campaign to rename Normandie Park highlights the emergence in Los Angeles of Oaxacan immigrants, whose numbers have surged over the last 30 years. Their leaders estimate the Oaxacan population in Southern California at near 150,000—most of them Zapotec Indians.

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