“Parque Zaragoza: Communidad, Cultura, y Resiliencia” is a new short documentary that offers a history of Austin’s first public park for Austin’s Mexican American community.
Produced by the city’s Park and Recreation Department ahead of Parque Zaragoza’s 90th Anniversary Celebration on May 14, the 16-minute film is nevertheless important viewing for both new and long-time Austinites.
Parque Zaragoza is a place of pride. But its origin is rooted in racism. During the segregationist Jim Crow era, a 1928 plan adopted by the city Austin forced people of color to the eastside by terminating city utilities and services to their original neighborhoods scattered throughout Austin. Along with the Black community, the Mexican American community was pushed into East Austin.
With only a small playground for themselves, Mexican American community leaders formed an organization to lobby the city for a full-sized park of their own. That happened in 1931 when the city designated 9.3 acres straddling Boggy Creek for parkland.
Named for General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín, who defended Mexico against French forces on May 5, 1862, the park has hosted many of Austin’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
Though granted parkland, community leaders had to continually push for facilities and amenities that parks in white neighborhoods had. A two-room former bathhouse built in 1933 served as the park’s only indoor facilities until 1996 when a modern recreation center was built.
Among those interviewed in the film are community leader and longtime parks department staff member Gloria Mata Pennington, and artist Fidencio Duran whose sweeping murals cover the walls inside the recreation center.