A Plaza Outside the Plaza
Editor's Note: After watching a recent Latino Urbanism webinar entitled "Plaza Talk: Race and Place,"our intern, Abraham Gomez shared his thoughts on the meaning of "The Plaza" in Latino culture, in his parent's hometowns and in his own experience growing up in Santa Ana.
El Granjenal is a little town in Michoacán where my mother’s story began. For as long as I can remember my family has returned to take part in this little town's December festivities. From the soccer tournament against the rival towns in La Plaza de Toros, to the nightly gatherings in a neighbor's front yard, the festivities are always centered around a space submerged with food, music, and people.
In El Granjenal, the space is not officially a plaza, it is just some benches, common space, and people enjoying each other’s company. The church’s plaza was where all traditional events were held, and its small “placita” was used more as a social gathering ground. Apart from the “typical” plaza experience, there is an “afterlife” where younger crowds gather around nightly fogatas and enjoy the booming Banda playing music around them.
Whereas, in my father’s hometown of Ocotlan, Jalisco, the plaza is the center of the town. This plaza is a place where you are likely to end up after a Saturday morning of shopping in the tiangis or a Sunday afternoon walk after picking up some ice cream. It is the place to be.
Though they are all very different, these spaces brought me joy and a sense of belonging. But it seems to me that the plaza in Ocotlan was built for the community, and in El Granjenal the sense of community was what made them plazas.
Clockwise: Church Plaza in El Granjenal (Fernando Lopez),
Plaza in Ocotlan (Abraham Gomez), Placita in El Granjenal (Jessica Lopez)
In Santa Ana, the plaza is everywhere: from the hot Saturday afternoons around my dad’s grill to the Easter Sunday gatherings at Mile Square Park. Each gathering has a different sense of the plaza in them. Decembers not spent in Mexico were spent in a local aunt’s house. Christmas and New Year’s gatherings were always spent with the people we love, like most people usually do. In addition to holidays together, we had a baseball game-on-Memorial-Day tradition. We would get together on a Memorial Day, when most of my family was off and go to Morrison Park, where people that lived in the neighborhood could join in on action. The “carne asadas” -- communal meat cook-outs -- that my dad would randomly suggest were spontaneous plazas for bonding with our neighbors. He would call our neighbor and it would sometimes turn in to a potluck dinner even though it was last minute. The afternoon would be spent updating on each other lives including the occasional neighborhood chisme. The times spent in these different places made up the plaza space that we were missing.
Fiesta Plaza, Downtown Santa Ana (2002)
photo from the Santa Ana History Room
Calle Cuatro Plaza, Downtown Santa Ana (2018)
photo from Santa Ana Business Council
"DTSA First Saturday Artwalk," Artists Village Promenade, Downtown Santa Ana (2016)
photo from Brian Feinzimer
"Dancing in the Streets," Spurgeon Paseo, Downtown Santa Ana (2020)
photo from Santa Ana Business Council
The plaza in a community is a place that has a multitude of meanings, in most Latin
American countries it signifies the physical center of the city or the central gathering point.
This “dynamic space” as Professor Setha Low of the City College of New York explains, is where the
culture of the community takes place. But what happens when the dynamic space of a plaza is
not an actual space? Is the community robbed of that plaza experience? Plaza Talk: Race and
Place reminded me that the plaza can be in any space, even when there may be a lack of space.
Story by Abrham Gomez
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