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Chicano Park renovationists allowed use of term 'Aztlán'
By Leonel Sanchez
March 5, 2003
Chicano Park can feature the word Aztlán after all.
Caltrans will allow proposed art featuring the Chicano term to remain in a $600,000 federally funded plan to renovate the aging park. The word refers to U.S. land that once belonged to Mexico.
The state Department of Transportation had questioned whether spending federal money on projects featuring Aztlán could violate grant-related civil rights laws.
After studying the issue, the agency concluded that "it does not," said Caltrans district director Pedro Orso.
Orso made the announcement yesterday afternoon at the world-famous park under the San Diego Coronado Bridge during a meeting with several Chicano activists.
The activists cheered when they realized their demands had been met to include the Aztlán projects on a list of park improvements.
"We would've kept on fighting for it if we had to," Chicano Park Steering Committee leader Tommie Camarillo said. The activists had said the word Aztlán is a cultural expression that belongs in the park, which celebrates Chicano history.
Aztlán will now be spelled out prominently with colored rocks along a section of the park near Logan Avenue. The Chicano Park logo, which features a map of the United States with the word Aztlán over the Southwest, will also be included as part of another art project for the park.
Aztlán is the Nahuatl name for the mythical place of origin of the ancient Aztecs. Chicanos, who are mostly Mexican-Americans, have embraced the term as a cultural homeland since the 1960s. Critics say the word promotes separatism.
Civil rights experts at Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration determined that the Aztlán proposals for Chicano Park did not violate Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Orso said. That law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal assistance. Some said the word would amount to preferential treatment for Chicanos.
Orso said no one should be excluded from the park because of the word.
"There are works of art here that everyone should view and enjoy," Orso said.
The renovation plan will also bring added lighting for the murals, landscaping, a kiosk-shaped sign near the park's entrance and a bronze statue of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.
The dispute between Caltrans and the Chicano Park Steering Committee over one word had threatened to delay the renovation project. The plan is on schedule now, Orso said, with work starting by summer.
Leonel Sanchez: (619) 542-4568;
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