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Parque Zaragoza perfect for Cinco de Mayo

Name for a Mexican general, the 15-acre park has been a holiday spot since 1931

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

Where would be the most appropriate place in Austin to celebrate Cinco de Mayo this weekend? (And, yes, it's OK to extend the party past May 5.) Consider Parque Zaragoza, named for General Ignacio Zaragoza, who defeated the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

Why was he fighting the French? Emperor Napoleon III, taking advantage of the American Civil War raging to the north and the disarray after the Mexican Reform War, sent a force to invade Mexico, in collusion with Spain and Great Britain, ostensively to collect debts owed by the previous Mexican government.

But that's not our story today. The Mexican general maintained a Texas connection: He was born in La Bahia del Espiritu Santo, now known as Goliad.

And in 1931, the City of Austin named its new 10-acre park, set aside for Hispanics, after Zaragoza.

Almost comically, the Recreation Department misspelled it "Zaragosa."

It opened with two concrete tennis courts that doubled as a dance pavilion, a bandstand and an athletic field. Five popular Hispanic — termed "Mexican" back then — baseball teams were organized into a league.

As early as 1932, Austin residents celebrated Cinco de Mayo at Parque Zaragoza. Some of East Austin's leading citizens — such as Francisco Estrada, Joe H. Rodriguez and Amador Candelas — helped organize the speeches, music, dancing and sports.

Young ladies competed to be named the Queen of the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

If you stop by Parque Zaragoza this weekend, be sure to inspect the murals at the Zaragoza Recreation Center, built in 1996. The images of Mexican leaders and white-suited soldiers behind a folk dancer were painted by Fidencio Durán, the same artist who created the family picnic scenes that travelers can behold while checking their bags at Austin-Bergstrom Airport.

Contact Michael Barnes at mbarnes@statesman.com

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