Community activist and life-long resident of Claremont, CA, Al Villanueva stands in the middle of El Barrio Park. Al played an integral role in the late 1960's and early 1970s in the construction of this park in Claremont's historic Arbol Verde neighborhood.

Al Villanueva

The Barrio Organizer

Al Villanueva grew up in Claremont’s historic Latino neighborhood known as Arbol Verde, which the local Spanish-speaking residents simply refer to as “El Barrio.” During the era of racial covenants which restricted where minority families could live until the late 1960s, El Barrio was one of the only neighborhoods where Latinos could rent or buy homes. For as far back as Al can remember, El Barrio residents wanted their own park. “If we went to other parks in Claremont, the white families would go away,” he says, recalling the pre-civil rights era. “We grew up with racism and discrimination and so we needed our own park.” In 1969, when Al was part of the Chicano Movement and a student at Stanford University, he and local Chicano families established the El Barrio Park Committee and began to mobilize Mexican and white residents alike, many of them high school students. They started a petition drive that got over 1,000 signatures and led supporters to the local city council, making a strong case for a new community park. Residents pitched in by clearing rocks and hosting taco sales to raise funds. In 1971, El Barrio Park opened to the public and has been welcoming residents ever since. “We all came together and made a dream come true,” says Al. “So this one of my legacies —to see kids playing in the park.”