LOWELL -- Three weeks ago, a proposal to rename Roberto Clemente Park to Pailin Park packed a Board of Parks meeting, ending with members of both the Latino and Cambodian communities calling for more dialogue before a final decision.

Those conversations haven't happened, according to leaders from both communities, and on April 12 a letter from a group called the called the Ad-Hoc Latino Community Coalition urged to keep the name of the park "unchanged."

The letter addressed to Mayor William Samaras said many in the Latino community, including leaders, were not aware of the proposal to change the name to Pailin Park, after a city in Cambodia, until late last month.

"As a group, we feel the intent was never clearly communicated to the Latino residents of Lowell, nor were any Latino leaders engaged in the process," according to the letter.

When contacted Thursday, Denisse Collazo, the chair of the committee that sent the letter, said she and seven others signed on to the letter are performing outreach in the Latino community to get input on the change. In contrast to the letter, she said it is too early to say whether the community supports or opposes the name change.

"There needs to be more talk," she said. "We are planning to do outreach and having people sit with us."

Members of the Clemente Park Committee said they were surprised by the letter.


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The Clemente Park Committee plans events and cleans up at the park, which has become a hub of the Cambodian community in recent decades.

Members Sambath Bo, Joan Chun, Jeremy Chun and volunteer Sokmeas Chea said they hadn't heard from members of the Latino community to continue discussions on the renaming since the Board of Parks meeting on March 27. Chea said since the meeting they supported the Latino community at a City Council meeting and urged the allocation of more resources to the Roberto Clemente League of Lowell. He said he would like to continue to work together.

Collazo said she left her contact information with the Board of Parks and knows several leaders in the Cambodian community, but hasn't heard about any meetings between the two groups.

Collazo and members of the Clemente Park Committee all said they would be interested in further conversation.

"We can have egg rolls, empanandas, pastillos at the table and we'll talk," Joan Chun said.

The letter mentioned Councilor Rodney Elliott and Councilor Vesna Nuon, the two members of City Council who proposed the name change.

"We would like to clarify that there is a distinction between the Roberto Clemente League and the overall Latino community," the letter reads. "Maria Claudio, president of the league, did not intend to negotiate on behalf of the Latino community, and only represents the interests of the league. It appears that Councilor Elliott and Councilor Nuon were under the impression that they were making a "deal" with Maria and her staff on behalf of the Latino community with regard to the name change."

Elliott said he did not make a "deal," but worked toward compromise. He said he has worked five years with both communities, securing a baseball field named after famed baseball player and humanitarian, Clemente, behind Bartlett Middle School for the league.

"It was always an open and inclusive process. ... We're just trying to bring some compromise," he said.

Nuon said he left the Board of Parks meeting believing members of the communities should meet to discuss the renaming. At the meeting, he urged all in attendance to support more resources at Roberto Clemente Field.

He said the decision to rename the park is not a "unilateral" decision.

"The writer is entitled to express how he or she feels," he said. "To me it's a moot point. The point of the dialogue is to have both parties come to the table."

Collazo said in her personal conversations, she has not heard people in the Latino community request their own park. She said this is at least partially, because the city has previously told she and others there are no available parks to rename or dedicate. 

In addition to Collazo, the letter was signed by Betsy St. Onge, secretary; Lionel St. Onge, community advocate; Luis Luna, business owner; Rev. Cecilio Hernandez, faith-community leader; Denise Brito, community advocate; Maylis Brito, youth leader and Carmen Bermudez, nonprofit organization leader.

In the letter and at previous meetings, advocates of keeping the park's name have referenced Clemente's legacy as the first Latino player to be inducted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame. He died in a 1972 plane crash while flying to Nicaragua to assist earthquake victims.

Members of the Cambodian community said many already refer to the park as Pailin Park and those who use the park support the name change.

"It's a sense of identity," Bo said. "A sense of belonging."

Twitter: @ElizDobbins