2015 Archives

A new generation learns the history of Little Mexico and Pike Park


The following is from the July 30, 2015, edition of KERA public radio news. Community outreach efforts by SMU art student Nicolas Gonzalez and art history Associate Professor Janis Bergman-Carton were featured in this story.

July 31, 2015

By Stella M. Chávez

At the Pike Park summer camp in Dallas, kids do the usual summer camp stuff -- play games, dance, draw and eat. What makes this camp different? The kids are also learning about where they're going to camp -- the once-thriving uptown neighborhood known as Little Mexico.

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It’s the last week of summer camp, and the kids here show no signs of slowing down. On this morning, the music has been blaring as they strut their stuff. Then, they launch into making their own beats. And rapping about the park where the camp is located.

The kids in the camp range from 5 to 12 years old, and a few of them live in the apartments next door, just off Harry Hines Boulevard. The area is now part of Uptown and it’s where thousands of Mexicans settled in the early 20th century.

Nicolas Gonzalez
Nicolas Gonzalez 

Nicolas Gonzalez, an art student at SMU, is working on a mural of Little Mexico with help from the camp kids.

“Basically, I told them about this mural piece,"

Gonzalez had the kids slap their paint-covered hands on the canvas leaving hand prints all over. He took a blown-up map of what used to be Little Mexico and Pike Park and replicated the outline of it on the mural. He added landmarks like the gazebo, which sits next to the park. It’s still a work in progress.

“Right now if you look at it, it’s very colorful and basic line works and there’s a lot of movement to it," Gonzalez said. "But that’s what I’m trying to capture, more of a child’s innocence to it.”

He also he didn’t want the mural to contain faces or writing -- he wants it to remain somewhat mysterious.

Janis Bergman-Carton, associate professor of art history at Southern Methodist University, has been involved in shaping the summer camp and mentoring Gonzalez on the mural.

“We’ve used a lot of visuals, a lot of historical photographs, historical maps and most exciting for the kids, not surprisingly, were a series of conversations we were able to organize with elders of the Mexican-American community, who grew up in Little Mexico and who grew up playing in Pike Park,” she said.

Janis Bergman-Carton
Janis Bergman-Carton 

Bergman-Carton became interested in Little Mexico when she met members of the Dallas Mexican-American Historical League in 2010. Since then, she's worked with members on various exhibits and research projects.

The idea for the mural and camp came up last fall during a Pike Park exhibit called Little Jerusalem to Little Mexico, 100 Years of Settlement. Bergman-Carton said Dallas parks and recreation director Willis Winters said the camp would be a step toward restoring and preserving the area.

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