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.