If you're not from Huntington Beach, trying to find Arevalos Park is a bit tricky unless you're a cyclist. The tiny greenbelt is right next to the Santa Ana River, right at the part where our Mississippi breaks out of its concrete straightjacket and reverts to its natural state. Arevalos is easiest to access from the bike trail; otherwise, a visitor usually gets lost going through the residential neighborhoods that surround it.
The 2 1/2-acre stretch is really just a playground, some swings and benches, a strangely placed plaza, and grass, sharing a parking lot with the private Pegasus School. It's humble, really, but perfectly capturing its namesake: Andres R. Arevalos, a Fountain Valley pioneer who farmed the Surf City land surrounding the school and park for decades starting in the 1920s and lived in FV's historic Colonia Juarez barrio. In 1965, a year before he died, the Fountain Valley School District named the school that's now Pegasus after him, to "honor all the Mexican-Americans who settled in Fountain Valley," according to a Register article at the time; the park's christening came sometime in the 1970s.
But Arevalos' public heritage is in danger. The school closed in 1988, and now Huntington Beach officials are thinking of renaming Arevalos Park. And if they do, they risk not only wiping out the legacy of a man, but an unknown part of OC Latino history.
Huntington Beach's ostensible motives for the name change are reasonable enough. A 2004 resolution gave the city new criteria for picking names for future parks, and also made a push to rename existing ones. It called for parks "adjacent to schools be named the same as the school" and suggested that parks donated by individuals or donors be named after them; all others, per the resolution, should either be named after former mayors (quick aside: can't the Rainbow Disposal garbage dump after Dave Garofalo and Pam Houchen?) or other individuals with "unique contributions have had a city, state or national impact, are marked by excellence and are worthy of honor."
Flash forward to October of last year, when the Park Naming and Memorials Committee took up the issue of renaming three parks, one of which was Arevalos. Minutes obtained by the Weekly show that after city staff let the committee know that Arevalos Park was named after the former school, which itself was named after a "Fountain Valley founding father," Commissioner Albert Gasparian noted that the fact Arevalos lived in FV made "it less of a reason to retain the names since the history belongs to Fountain Valley and not Huntington Beach." But city staff failed to inform the committee that, while Arevalos might've lived in Fountain Valley, he farmed in Huntington Beach, raising peppers and cattle.
A decision wasn't made that night, and the parks committee held a second meeting in March to get public input before forwarding their recommendation to the city council. Not invited? Descendants of Arevalos.
In a letter to the Weekly, Debbie Tinoco, Andres' great-granddaughter, said her family only found out about the proposed wiping of Arevalos Park in March, when a Chapman University professor let them know about the matter. Tinoco and other family members plan to attend the next Huntington Beach planning commission or city council meeting—whenever the possible changing of their patriarch's park gets on any agenda.
Tinoco provided a brief history of her bisabuelo to the Weekly:
He was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1888. He left Mexico in 1905 to head to the United States and landed in Indio, CA where he met and married our grandmother, Guadalupe Garcia. They eventually ended up in Fountain Valley in 1908 and lived in a small community called Colonia Juarez. Keeping in mind that he was only fluent in Spanish he was able to get work with the Pacific Electric Railroad. He lived at 10332 Calle Madero, Fountain Valley, CA and was finally able to purchase this house in 1926 and became a farmer. He remained at this address until he died in 1966. There are many memories of family picnics being held at this small little home on Sundays...He was not an educated man but tried his best to make sure this was not the case for his children. One source of pride for him was having five of his six sons serve in the U.S. military.
Tinoco went on to note that none of Arevalos' nine children remain alive, but many of his grand-children, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren continue to live in Orange County, including Fountain Valley.
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If Arevalos Park is renamed, it'll represent the latest insult rained on the region's Mexican-American history, one usually overshadowed by SanTana, Placentia, and Anaheim. His neighborhood, Colonia Juarez, once had a internationally renowned 600-foot mural by noted Chicano muralist Sergio O'Cadiz that was unceremoniously destroyed early last decade. And Arevalos remains the only Latino in Huntington Beach to get a park named after him—this, in a city that's almost 20 percent Latino and whose members remains a favored punching bag of Surf City's notorious online haters. In fact, Arevalos Park is the only parkland in coastal OC named after a Mexican.
"Our family as a whole is not famous or rich or well known, but what we are is a family that is very close and very proud of the legacy that my great grandfather has left," Tinoco said. "I hope you can understand how this is not just a park for our family but it is part of our family history. It is more than just a landmark but symbol of how far back the Arevalos name has been in this area."
Hear, hear. Alright, folks: time to rally to save Arevalos Park!