On behalf of the State of Morelos, the governor, Marco Castillo, presented a statue of Emiliano Zapata to the City of Minneapolis Saturday, Aug. 25, at Los Gallos, 1855 E. Lake St., in the Powderhorn Community. Club Morelos accepted the gift on behalf of the City in the hope that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will accept the statue and install it on a hill in the northeast corner of Powderhorn Park.
According to the 2000 Census (which is based on figures collected in 1999), the Latino population in Minneapolis grew by 269 percent. It grew from 3 percent to 22 percent of the Powderhorn Neighborhood in the same period. Of course, in eight years, by 2007, the figure must be much higher. Two-thirds of the Latino population is from Mexico, and people who know the community estimate about a third of them are from the State of Morelos.
Anyone who has driven down Lake Street in the past ten years can tell the difference the Latino community has made to South Minneapolis. What used to be a depressed and neglected part of the city has become a thriving community due to the energy of eager Latin entrepreneurs. Boarded up storefronts got a new coat of paint and fresh goods, and Lake Street came back to life.
But, for me, the most important contribution has not been economic, but social and cultural. The revival of Lake Street is important, but the rebirth of Powderhorn Park has been a miracle. I have lived on Powderhorn Park for 37 years. Before that I lived close by and came to ball games, the fireworks, community sing-alongs and Southside Picnics at Powderhorn when I was growing up in South Minneapolis. It was sad to witness a family park abandoned to gang violence, prostitution and homeless alcoholics. Many good people tried to stop the slide. Danny Drinkwine gave most of his life to coaching kids in the Powderhorn community, and Mike Kehoe has done a marvelous job organizing the Powderhorn Art Fair, to name just two out of many, but their efforts have seemed like shoveling sand against an inevitable tidal wave of decay and desperation.
Then, about ten years ago, a few Latina mothers and grandmothers began pushing small children in strollers around the Lake. Then there were soccer games. Maybe around six years ago, for a two-year period, there were Ecuadorian three-man volley ball games that at some point seemed to take up every possible square foot of space in the park. Young people were seen holding hands and stealing kisses. Old men were talking on park benches. Finally, this summer there were baseball games (baseball, not softball) with uniforms and cheering sections. All the good work and best intentions hadn’t been able to save Powderhorn Park; it took a community of young people and families who wanted to use the Park to save it.
In Mexico every town or community has a small park, or zocalo , where all ages gather and play. There are often statues commemorating local heroes. Emiliano Zapata was from the State of Morelos. One of the great heroes of the Mexican Revolution, he fought for agrarian reform and the rights of peasants, the campesinos, against the large land owners, the haciendas. The early Gene Autry and Roy Rogers films all shared the same narrative: a hero restored justice by fighting on the side of the little guy against the big rancher. Sometimes, in self-defense or if the big rancher wouldn’t listen to reason, the hero had to resort to using a gun to even the balance of power. The Hollywood model of the noble gunfighter (“Shane,” “High Noon,” “Zorro,” “Have Gun Will Travel”) is based on the actual life of Zapata. Most of the time Zapata was able to convince large landowners to give back land to campesinos that had lost it through trickery and fraud, but, when the governor of Morelos was slow to act on behalf of the campesinos, he was not afraid to use force to take land from the haciendas for the campesinos. Almost anyone who lives in South Minneapolis will agree that the transformation of Powderhorn Park from a refuge for derelicts and criminals to a warm and welcoming park for families is due to the presence of the Latino community. They have liberated the park. Club Morelos wants to put up a statue of Emiliano Zapata to honor a hero of the Mexican Revolution and to remind people from Morelos who move here of their history. This seems very much like the Norwegian immigrants who insisted on putting up a statue of Ole Bull in Loring Park. Like Zapata, Ole Bull was a revolutionary and a visionary, and the installation of his statue was also quite controversial at the time.
The tradition of Zapata is still very much alive in Mexico. The Zapatistas in the State of Chiapas are fighting for social justice in his name. When demonstrators march for justice in Mexico, quite often they chant, “Si Zapata viviera, con nosotros andaría,” If Zapata lived, he would walk with us. “Zapata vive, la lucha sigue,” Zapata lives, the struggle continues. Viva Zapata!