April 2, 2004

Making Way for the Gateway of the Children

By Raymond R. Beltrán

“Usually people wait until their retired to learn about gardening,” said Glo Andrade watching over the neighborhood children planting flowers under a statue of César E. Chávez. “This is when they should be learning about this stuff. This is when the children should know to be a part of the cycle, the giving and receiving.”

Andrade is a Cuyamaca College Ornamental Horticulture student who decided to join King/Chavez Academy of Excellence students and Chicano Park muralist Mario Torero at the corner of Kearney Avenue and César E. Chávez Parkway this Wednesday to continue “beautifying” the local area through murals and planting gardens.

Chicano Park advocate, Azteca, joins muralist Mario Torero and King/Chavez Academy students on Kearney Ave and César E. Chávez Pkwy in a project to beautify the Chicano Park Community. Photo by R. R. Beltrán.

The event was to honor the birthday of César Estrada Chávez, the prominent migrant farm worker activists throughout the second half of the 20th Century. Having recently erected a statue of Chávez, Torero loathed the filthy corner of Kearney Ave and Chávez Parkway, which has continued to be dominated by tattered weeds, an undesirably dirty walkway under the Interstate 5 Freeway and drunken derelicts.

In taking action to improve the presence of the neighborhood, as well as the students’ knowledge of horticulture, Torero organized the event for all community members to take part.

“I think it [creates] a positive attitude for the children, because in a way, you’re planting seeds for the future. You’re thinking about the coming seasons,” Andrade expressed.

Chicano Park is directly south of King/Chavez Academy, divided by the Interstate 5 Freeway and connected by César E. Chávez Pkwy. In parallel with Andrade’s idea of planning for the future, it has been a dream of Torero’s to expand on Chicano Park through this particular street, heading north up to Imperial Avenue.

With results to beautify this particular intersection coming into fruition, where lies the school, the plan is to name the underpass “Gateway of the Children.” It will stand as a northern entrance into Chicano Park and one that, in Torero’s hopes, will nurture the creativity of the children living in the surrounding barrios.

The corner of Kearney Ave and Chávez Pkwy is a prime area where both Torero and King/Chavez Academy Principal Dennis McKeown have expressed ideas for a possible skateboarding park with ramps in the style of Aztec temples as well as a recreation center or King/Chavez High School across from the Academy.

Ornamental Horticulture student and community resident, Glo Andrade, joins students from King/Chávez Academy in a day of beautifying their neighborhood to commemorate the birthday of César E. Chávez. Photo by R. R. Beltrán.

As both Torero and Glo Andrade have stated, the ideas are unlimited, although, they have to begin somewhere and be sparked with feasible actions right now, hence, planting gardens in various areas.

An architectural companion of Torero’s is said to have a plan for the area surrounding the César Chávez statue, which is possible within the immediate future, this year. The idea is to surround the base of the statue with cement, creating a short pathway up to and around the monument. Below that, the idea of a grassy area has been mentioned, but only in passing.

While looking through the underpass and onto few of the homeless walking by with alcohol bottles their in hands, Torero expresses thoughts of sympathy for the children and students who have few to witness the neglect of their neighborhood, something Torero’s “Gateway of the Children” plan promises to remedy.

“I’m not against them, and I wish them well wherever else they can go,” says Torero, as he looks on to the homeless passing by. “But this is not good for the kids to have to see this all the time.”

The garden planted is the first step in the beautifying process, but there are plans to continue with the construction of the ideas brought forth.

As the children, who were not all from King/Chavez but were brought out by other community parents, began to clean up after the morning’s event, prominent Chicano Park advocate, Azteca, blessed the area with sage and blew into a conch shell in four directions, which represent the four directions of the earth: water, air, land and fire. The children took part in the ceremony, shaking their hands in the air and trying their best to repeat Azteca in the nahautl language.

In the end, Mario Torero gave his ultimate gratitude to the community that has embraced his ideas, and especially the ones who have come out to take part in the progress of its “beautifying.”

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