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An Immigrants History of South Park

09/24/2007

Seattleites know you can see fish flying through the air at the Pike Place Market. But how many of us know that the market was started by immigrant farmers from South Park? Or where South Park is? To launch our Life on the Duwamish series, Jessica Partnow started out by asking folks....

TRANSCRIPT

EVER HEARD OF SOUTH PARK?

WOMAN 1: "Yes."

THE NEIGHBORHOOD?

WOMAN 1: "No."

MAN 1: "The TV Show?"

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN THERE?

WOMAN 2: "Ummm, I don't think so."

MAN 2: "It still looks like it did back in the 90s."

MAN 3: "I hesitated moving there because it is mostly, uh, Hispanic. "

LOPEZ: "People just don't know South Park. They probably hear that it's a Hispanic neighborhood, that's all they know. Oh – no, they also know that it's next to the cool Georgetown neighborhood."

SHE'S RIGHT. BEFORE I MOVED TO SOUTH PARK I'D BARELY HEARD OF IT EITHER. I GREW UP IN NORTH SEATTLE. SOUTH PARK WAS JUST THIS PLACE DOWN BY THE DUMP. AND IT'S TRUE THAT THE NEIGHBORHOOD USUALLY GETS ATTENTION WHEN THERE'S A SHOOTING OR A NEW REPORT COMES OUT ON POLLUTION IN THE RIVER.

BUT SOUTH PARK HAS BEEN HOME TO IMMIGRANTS IN SEATTLE FOR GENERATIONS. BY THE TIME IT BECAME PART OF THE CITY IN 1907, MOST OF ITS RESIDENTS WERE FROM ITALY AND JAPAN. THEY CAME HERE TO FARM THE RICH SOIL CLOSE TO THE DUWAMISH RIVER. RESIDENTS LIKE GEORGE CRIDDLE PAINT AN IDYLLIC PICTURE OF SOUTH PARK IN THE 40S AND 50S.

CRIDDLE: "Looking back on it, it was almost scary how closely knit the community was. Like, as a youngster growing up, there was always a friendly house to go to. "

GEORGE AND I WALKED FROM HIS HOUSE IN SOUTH PARK OVER TO HIS GRANDFATHER'S FARM.

CRIDDLE: "That house, that sort of pinkish looking one, that was my folks' house, that's where I grew up. Cousin lives there, aunt and uncle lived there, cousin lives here."

PARTNOW: "Wow! Ha Ha!"

CRIDDLE: "That's where my grandparents that owned the farm lived, and on the left is the farm."

THE FARM IS A BIT MORE RUNDOWN TODAY THAN IT MUST HAVE BEEN WHEN GEORGE'S GRANDFATHER WAS WORKING IT. IT'S NOW A COMMUNITY P–PATCH AND A PLACE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE TO LEARN ABOUT FOOD AND GARDENING. MANY OF THE RAISED BEDS ARE NEATLY MANICURED, BUT GEORGE GRUMBLED AT THE FEW STILL OVERGROWN WITH WEEDS. I ASKED HIM WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WORK ON THE FARM WHEN HE WAS GROWING UP.

CRIDDLE: "It was just a job. Matter of fact I, I'd say it was a fun job. Outside all the time, no boss yelling at you, my grandfather'd tell you what you had to do and you'd just do it."

THERESA LYTLE IS NOW IN HER 80'S. SHE REMEMBERS GROWING UP IN SOUTH PARK DURING THE DEPRESSION.

LYTLE: "We didn't suffer because being produce people, we had plenty of vegetables and fruit. And the meat market would give you meat and you'd give them produce, and so we had meat, to the table."

THERESA'S MOTHER CAME UP WITH CREATIVE WAYS TO EARN MONEY FOR HER FAMILY, GATHERING DANDELIONS TO SELL AT 3 POUNDS FOR A QUARTER, OR PICKING UP PRODUCE LEFT BEHIND ON THE LARGER FARMS TO SELL TO HER NEIGHBORS DOOR–TO–DOOR.

BUT THE MAN WHO REALLY TIED THE NEIGHBORHOOD TOGETHER WAS JOE DESIMONE. HE'S FAMOUS FOR FOUNDING AND LATER OWNING MUCH OF THE PIKE PLACE MARKET, BUT HE ALSO PLAYED A HUGE ROLE IN THE LIVES OF SOUTH PARK'S FARMING COMMUNITY. HE EVEN ARRANGED A MARRIAGE FOR GEORGE'S GRANDFATHER.

CRIDDLE: "My grandfather's farm was purchased from Joe Desimone, and if anybody was to be considered like the godfather of the Italians of this area, it was Old Joe Desimone."

LYTLE: "He had a beautiful home, and he had such a high fence, you couldn't see it was like a mansion."

THERESA'S MOTHER WOULD GO UP TO WORK FOR THE DESIMONES DURING ONION SEASON. THE NEIGHBORHOOD WOMEN WOULD TIE BUNCHES OF ONIONS TOGETHER USING STRIPS OF WILD GRASS. THERESA WOULD TAG ALONG AS A LITTLE GIRL, AND SHE REMEMBERS THE ITALIAN AND FILIPINO FARM WORKERS ALL SITTING DOWN AT A LONG TABLE FOR BIG COMMUNAL LUNCHES.

BUT THE EASY PEACE THAT THERESA DESCRIBES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD WEAKENED IN THE FACE OF WAR. IN 1941, TWO THIRDS OF THE PRODUCE COMING OUT OF SOUTH PARK WAS GROWN BY JAPANESE FARMERS. BY 1942, THEIR FARMS WERE STANDING EMPTY. IT SEEMED LIKE THEIR OWNERS HAD JUST DISAPPEARED OVERNIGHT.

LYTLE: "It was bad, they um took em all out to concentration camps. And my, I had so many Japanese friends that I we just cried."

ALL OF SOUTH PARK'S JAPANESE RESIDENTS WERE SENT TO INTERNMENT CAMPS DURING WORLD WAR II. MOST OF THEM NEVER CAME BACK.

FARMING IN SOUTH PARK DECLINED FOLLOWING THE WAR. THERE WAS COMPETITION FROM BIGGER GROWERS, THE YOUNGER GENERATION DIDN'T WANT TO CONTINUE THE FAMILY BUSINESS, AND FARMLAND STARTED TO GIVE WAY TO HOUSING. EARLIER ON IN THE CENTURY, THE NEIGHBORHOOD HAD SEEN THE DREDGING AND STRAIGHTENING OF THE DUWAMISH RIVER TO MAKE WAY FOR BOEING AND OTHER INDUSTRIES. LATER, HIGHWAY 99 WAS ROUTED THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF SOUTH PARK, SLICING THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN HALF.

GARY THOMSEN IS A TEACHER AT CHIEF SEALTH HIGH SCHOOL IN WEST SEATTLE AND A DEVOTED HISTORIAN. HE HAS SPENT THE PAST 10 YEARS WORKING WITH HIS STUDENTS TO PRODUCE HISTORIES OF NEIGHBORHOODS ALL OVER THE CITY.

THOMSEN: "I think people in the 50s were starting to feel like in South Park that they were sort of the bastard child, so to speak, that, that you know, the other parts of the city got better services and, and they didn't."

INDUSTRIAL AND RESIDENTIAL PARTS OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD HAVE CONTINUED TO EDGE CLOSER AND CLOSER TO EACH OTHER.

BY THE 1990'S, SOUTH PARK HAD BECOME A LESS DESIRABLE PLACE TO LIVE. THAT AND THE CHEAPER HOUSING PROVIDED OPPORTUNITIES FOR A NEW GROUP OF IMMIGRANTS. THE HISPANIC POPULATION HERE MORE THAN DOUBLED DURING THAT DECADE.

LIKE MOST LOW INCOME COMMUNITIES, SOUTH PARK SUFFERS FROM A LACK OF BASIC SERVICES. THERE'S NO POST OFFICE, NO BANK, NO DRUGSTORE. BUT RESIDENTS LIKE PAULINA LOPEZ HAVE FOUND ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL REFUGE HERE.

LOPEZ: "I know that we're lacking for so many things like groceries and all that but it has some other good things like very close from the city, and you know when you walk around you can speak your language and you can meet people from the same culture, you can make friends easily here."

THOMSEN: "So you have a mix of different ethnicities that move down there because it's affordable. You also have now a mix of more whites moving in down there who are, um, I guess you could call 'em middle class, if such exists in this city any more. You know it's a bit of an eclectic mix, and that gives it some personality, just, just like Fremont used to have some personality."

BUT GARY ADDS THAT THERE HAVE BEEN PROBLEMS HERE WITH GANG VIOLENCE AND DRUGS. BETWEEN MARCH 2004 AND APRIL 2005, THERE WERE 5 SHOOTING DEATHS IN SOUTH PARK.

ANNOUNCER: "Muchas gracias. Muchas gracias."

CONSEJO IS A YOUTH OUTREACH PROGRAM THAT HAS COME TO SOUTH PARK TO COMBAT THESE PROBLEMS. AT THE ORGANIZATION'S GRAND OPENING, TEENAGERS PERFORMED DANCES FROM ALL OVER LATIN AMERICA.

ANNOUNCER: "It's um Duranguenze, Mexican."

THE DANCERS ARE DRESSED IN SUITS AND SLINKY TOPS. THEY PEEK AT THEIR EAGER AUDIENCE BEFORE LOOKING BACK TO THEIR PARTNERS AND ALMOST COLLAPSING INTO GIGGLES.

ROBERT GALINDO IS THE CLINICAL SUPERVISOR HERE. ALTHOUGH HE ADMITS GANGS ARE STILL A SERIOUS PROBLEM, HE ALSO SEES POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS HERE IN SOUTH PARK.

GALINDO: "If you think about, this whole block here is owned by a Latino, all of it. This whole section here, and all the way back, he owns it! Then Starbucks is coming down here, on the corner, there's a rumor about that, and Washington mutual. I mean, there's progress right there."

NOT EVERYBODY IS SO EAGER TO SEE WHAT ROBERT IS DESCRIBING.

MAN 2: "I like South Park now because it's one of the few un-gentrified sections of the south end left."

CRIDDLE: "I'm just glad they haven't heard of South Park."

AND IT'S HARD TO KNOW WHO'S RIGHT. OR IF THERE IS A BEST ANSWER FOR SOUTH PARK. THE PAST HUNDRED YEARS HAVE SEEN FARMLAND PAVED OVER, A MEANDERING ESTUARY STRAIGHTENED AND TAMED, AND WAVES OF NEW IMMIGRANTS ARRIVE, SETTLE, AND LEAVE AGAIN.

WHILE THE NEW SERVICES COMING IN SEEM CRUCIAL TO SOUTH PARK'S SURVIVAL, I WONDER WHAT OUR CITY'S HUNGER FOR DEVELOPMENT WILL REALLY MEAN FOR THIS PLACE. HOW WILL SOUTH PARK'S SECOND CENTURY COMPARE TO ITS FIRST?

IN SOUTH PARK, I'M JESSICA PARTNOW FOR KUOW 949 SEATTLE.

© Copyright 2007, KUOW News

11.14.18

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