More than a Park, Part 2 | Artist Terry Valdez rediscovers his roots in South Wenatchee
WENATCHEE — Artist Terry Valdez’s roots in South Wenatchee go back to the 1950s, when his family moved here from New Mexico and became one of the first Latino families in the Wenatchee Valley. He recalls at age 4 or 5 sleeping in an apple bin in an orchard not far from what is now Squilchuck Grocery. His parents picked apples when they first arrived.
Valdez’s involvement with the revitalization of South Wenatchee goes back to 2012, when a team from the American Institute of Architects, funded by a grant from the city, spent time in the valley studying what might be possible.
Prior to that time, “I was naïve about my connection” to South Wenatchee, Valdez admitted. “I was a little apprehensive walking around the neighborhood.” Like so many community members, he had bought into the myth of South Wenatchee as an unsafe place. A key aspect of the AIA engagement was an outreach effort that Valdez was deeply involved in. He knew that getting input from the neighbors of Latino descent would require creative approaches. They put chalk story boards all over town with an invitation for people to Imagine South Wenatchee in both English and Spanish. The response was extraordinary.
While few tangible changes came out of that effort, it did seem to set the stage for what was to come.
A few years later, when the city of Wenatchee decided to invest in a safe corridor project in South Wenatchee, Valdez and pastor Misael Fajardo-Perez worked to bring the community together and generate ideas that were based on neighborhood needs and desires. Using art, food and music, they were able to overcome skepticism by South Wenatchee neighbors who were skeptical of the city following through. With Steve King of the city of Wenatchee, they walked the neighborhoods and he found remarkable features like old stone walls and, more importantly, a powerful sense of community — neighbors helping each other.
The city’s new interest in the neighborhood sparked the creation of the United Neighborhood Association, a consortium of Latino and Anglo residents committed to improving South Wenatchee.
The project — funded by grants the city received that paid for lighting, metal artistic banners with art that neighbors helped design and sidewalks — created a safer corridor to the Wenatchee Community Center from Ferry Street.
A few years ago, when the Trust for Public Land got involved in the redevelopment of Kiwanis Methow Park next to the community center, Valdez and Fajardo-Perez were contracted to continue their community engagement work, building upon the strong relationships that had been built over several years. Valdez has noticed significant changes in the South Wenatchee neighborhood. There is a growing pride in their own property and a new confidence. “We’re not a ghetto any more,” a neighbor said to one of the artists who has been helping with public engagement. Another talked about the artistic metal banners that had been installed and how she enjoyed taking photographs of them when snow had fallen.
Valdez has come to see that even his own perceptions of South Wenatchee in his adult years were dead wrong, that in South Wenatchee there exists a powerful sense of community, a welcoming spirit and an ethos of neighbors looking out for each other. With the work that is being done, a renewed sense of pride seems to be emerging. Properties are being more carefully cared for. “Aesthetics seem to have become more important,” Valdez said. The neighborhood-inspired and created art is enhancing the sense of community.
More layers are emerging. Local landscape designer Chuck Strawn pointed out to Valdez that there are significant geologic features in South Wenatchee or visible from the neighborhood. Erratics, massive boulders that were transported by glaciers, can be found in the neighborhood. From Kiwanis Methow Park, one can see the ripples across the river in East Wenatchee that were created by the great floods from glacial Lake Missoula.
That view also includes the church steeple of the community center, which had been a Catholic Church, and the view is reminiscent of what one might find in Europe, Valdez said.
What is developing in East Wenatchee is unique to that neighborhood, Valdez said. The culture, economics and aesthetics are very different across the river in East Wenatchee. The Trust for Public Land process of engagement with neighbors to create a park uniquely suited to South Wenatchee can be replicated successfully anywhere, he added.
Wenatchee has been rediscovering its beauty in the past 30 years. This new-found appreciation of community assets began with reclaiming the riverfront by turning it from a wasteland and garbage dump into parks, markets and housing. The Foothills Campaign, which the Trust for Public Land was a key partner in, helped the community rediscover the beauty and function of the lands to the west of Wenatchee.
With the Kiwanis Methow Park project, the community is discovering the beauty of a neighborhood that had been long neglected, reviled and underappreciated. In the process, the sense of community in the neighborhood has been given a tremendous boost. The sense of engagement and ownership by those who live there has been enhanced immeasurably.
“This is a beautiful place — unique in the world,” Valdez marvels.