District del Sol

People of Mexican origin or descent began to come to St. Paul around the time of World War I. Oftentimes they were migrant agricultural workers who found reasons to stay year-round, working in the railroads, local shops and factories, or the South St. Paul stockyards. Most of them lived on the West Side flats, and some St. Paul families with Spanish surnames have been here for nearly a century. For decades they made up at best an urban village; around seventy people in 1920, six hundred and thirty by 1930, and up to a thousand -- a quarter of the Flats’ population -- by 1940.

The community remained small until the 1980s, when immigration picked up again, from Mexico and also Central America. Neighborhood House, founded in 1890 as a settlement house for Jewish immigrants, changed with the times, and it has been important to the Spanish-speaking community for the better part of a century. It is housed now in the Wellstone Center, immediately north of El Burrito Market. More vital still has been Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, founded in 1931 at 186 Fairfield, in the heart of the flats, and still offering Mass in Spanish at its newer location at the far eastern edge of the West Side.

Two commercial establishments, the restaurant Boca Chica (the Frias family, 1964) and the grocery, El Burrito Market (the Silva family, 1979), have been St. Paul fixtures for nearly two generations. They are now St. Paul institutions, well known all around the city. Along Wabasha/Cesar Chavez, the number of Latino-owned businesses has grown and grown, with the area now called District del Sol.

Cinco de Mayo, a holiday celebrated more in the United States than in Mexico, commemorates the 1863 Battle of Puebla, in which Mexican forces defeated the French. In this country it has become an occasion to celebrate Mexican culture and presence. St. Paul’s Cinco de Mayo celebration, centered in District del Sol, has become one of the biggest in the United States.

In an act of cultural and architectural syncretism, the chief landmark of this part of town is the tower in the housing development along Wabasha, called Torre de San Miguel. It is all that remains of the demolished Irish Catholic St. Michael's Church (founded 1868), but its origin is remembered by few. It is a symbol now of St. Paul's now prominent Latino population – as of 2010, nearly 10% of the city's 285,000 people.

Images

Cinco de Mayo celebration

Cinco de Mayo celebration

On every Cinco de Mayo, Cesar Chavez Street overflows with life as the entire city celebrates a patriotic holiday that has become more significant for those who have left Mexico than for modern Mexicans themselves. View File Details Page

Mexican Independence parade

Mexican Independence parade

Cinco de Mayo is the day of Mexico's Battle of Puebla in 1862, when a fledgling Mexican army defeated the larger, invading French forces. Cinco de Mayo festivals throughout the United States honor this part of Mexican history, and also celebrate Latino culture and tradition. There has been a strong tradition of celebration on the West Side. In fact, the West Side's Cinco de Mayo fiesta is the largest in Minnesota - one of the ten largest in the United States. Date: 1938 Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Wellstone Center for Community Building

Wellstone Center for Community Building

The new Neighborhood House facility - the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center for Community Building - is the National Congressional Memorial to the late senator and his wife and a testament to their legacy of work on behalf of immigrant rights. It incorporates amenities from its past and includes many new features - a full gym, weight room, theater, commercial kitchen, and cafe. Image courtesy of BWBR Architects, Inc. View File Details Page

Neighborhood House

Neighborhood House

Located at 179 Robie Street East, the Neighborhood House was opened in the late 1800s by a group of Jewish women who sought to help immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe adjust to a new way of life. Since then, the center has helped people from all over the world. Hmong and East African refugees are the most recent participants at Neighborhood House, joining the large Latino constituency. Date: March, 1924 Photographer: Northwestern Photographic Studio, Inc. Image courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Paul Nelson, “District del Sol,” Saint Paul Historical, accessed August 17, 2017, http://saintpaulhistorical.com/items/show/129.

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