Rereading it, I think this title may have been misleading. If you’re looking for a park in which thousands of infants are crawling around from end to end, like a dog park for tiny humans, then you may have come to the wrong place.
The park is Crescent Park and, compared to other green spaces around the city, it’s new (in its infant stages) — having only opened in 2014. (Though, between 2009 and the park’s opening, I had been almost arrested more times than I can count for illegally running there.)
Crescent Park plays host to plenty of residents on their daily jog, walk, bike ride, picnic or romantic stroll. The park also holds exercises classes, Mardi Gras dance krewe practices, wedding receptions, roller derby training sessions and weird occurrences like a random fencing match.
Earlier this year, it was home to four temporary art installations, part of New Orleans’ tri-annual city-wide art exhibit.
But it has no permanent public art. No monuments. No plaques. Nada.
This past Saturday afternoon a statue was unveiled in the downriver section of the park. The monument pays homage to the Latinos who came to New Orleans to help the city rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.
It’s estimated that the Hispanic population in the city increased by an amazing 33,000 people between 2005 and 2011! Many came to work construction jobs, usually for low wages, and sometimes — due to shitty wage theft — for no wages at all.
Dr. Juan Gershanik, originally from Argentina, but a practicing — now-retired — neonatologist in New Orleans for many years, was mentoring in local schools post-Katrina. He was surprised to hear that Hispanic children felt construction and cleaning jobs were inferior, and wanted to make sure generations of New Orleans children understood the essential role Latin Americans played in bringing their city back to life.
So he commissioned this statue. And it’s beautiful. I saw it for the first time when I was running by this weekend, and it gave me chills.
It gave me chills because it’s a statue dedicated to a group of immigrants who should be celebrated, but are instead too-often vilified. It gave me chills because it’s a monument to a new chapter in the city’s history that — unlike other chapters — many of us were here to witness. And it gave me chills because — by choosing it as the location of a piece of public art — it adds a sense of permanence to a park that has been such an important place to me in my adopted home.
Maybe permanence is the theme. Maybe that’s what statues can add. This one shows that the Hispanic community that grew here after the storm is a permanent part of our city. It shows their contributions will be remembered for as long as that statue stands. And it shows the City is beginning to think of Crescent Park in the same vein as her sister spaces like City Park and Audubon — as a worthwhile and permanent addition to its portfolio of green space.
Do you have a spot in this city — or any city — that gets you thinking about similar ideas? (Or any ideas, really.) I’m always interested in what gets people thinking, and always on a hunt for inspiring spots to explore.