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South Park, Santa Rosa?s vibrant, ever-changing corner

I have it on good authority that when the ride-by shooting occurred last Tuesday at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, the police converging in squad cars found that flying bullets from a gun-toting cyclist did not stop the soccer game in progress.

Nor did it deter the spectators. The crowd did not disperse, neither did it gather to bear witness. No one came running to tell the officers what they had seen. The dent in a parked truck, made by a bullet, was pointed out by the truck?s owner and, with something like a collective shrug of the shoulders, life in South Park went on.

If it wasn?t that people who have lived their lifetimes in that corner of Santa Rosa insist that things are better than they used to be, it might seem that South Park is still a problem to be solved.

Historically, it?s always been the first stop for immigrants. Our Ellis Island, someone has suggested. Or, as others have said in Monopoly board terms, our Mediterranean and Baltic. The low-rent district ? from day one.

And, you know, for a nation that takes such pride in being a melting pot, that savors its stories of the ?immigrant experience,? Americans have not always made things easy for newcomers, relegating them to the far corners of our towns and cities ? out of sight, out of mind, the saying goes.

For all the glorious promises of the Statue of Liberty, each immigrant group, finding its way out of these corners and into the mainstream, has shown little sympathy for the next in line.

JESSE LOVE, who has lived on Grand Avenue for 40 years, observes that he has noted ?several changes? and that ?it is quieter now, although some terrible things have happened.? He is alluding to the murder in April of a young Grand Avenue neighbor, Luis Sanchez, shot in the street in front of his home.

Love is a retired county employee who was among the first of a post-World War II group of Southern blacks to find Sonoma County and establish a small but determined black presence around the Community Baptist Church in South Park. He has seen the infrastructure improve, with wider streets and curbs and gutters to replace the drainage ditches. He has seen old houses repaired and remodeled. And he has seen a change in demographics. Change is the name of South Park?s story.

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