San Jose: Iris Chang Park finally set to open next month

    After more than three years and countless delays, a park named after a late political activist in San Jose still remains closed off, behind a fence and off limits to the public.

    But community leaders are confident that Iris Chang Park on Epic Way might actually open next month — a moment of pride for the family of the journalist and activist best known for her book “The Rape of Nanking.”

    “The park is very beautiful and elegant,” said Ying-Ying Chang, Iris’ mother. “I’m sure Iris would be very happy to see it.”

    Peering beyond the fence, one can see a seemingly finished park, a peaceful place decorated with artistic monuments and lush greenery. In the past few years, the neighborhood has seen the site transform from a parking lot, to a spare plot of land to what it is today.

    The park is set to open on Nov. 9, the 15th year of Chang’s death which was ruled a suicide. Chang became an international figure after the release of “The Rape of Nanking,” which launched her career as a speaker and human rights activist.

    “As the city grows, we continue to honor the people that have made an impact locally and globally,” said Carolina Camarena, a spokeswoman for San Jose’s Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department. “Parks provide an opportunity to embrace the history of people in our community.”

    The long-delayed park dedicated to Iris Chang, the late political activist, in San Jose is finally set to open in November. Photo courtesy of Ying-Ying Chang.

    But it wasn’t so easy getting to this point. The park has been a formalized project since 2016, but multiple delays have prevented it from opening as planned.

    First, there was a dispute with the topsoil in 2016. The previous location of the park was an old parking lot owned by the property manager of the adjacent apartments, and not enough of the topsoil was removed for new vegetation to grow. The city had to negotiate with the developer to haul more soil before the city accepted the land and began any work on the park.

    The project was delayed again when Coyote Creek flooded in 2017, forcing the city to put the park’s designing on hold. Then Microsoft proposed a project that called for expanding water supply near its data center in Alviso through a water well, which was met with some pushback from Chang’s parents, who thought it might interfere with the aesthetic direction of the park.

    “Finding water sources can be challenging,” Camarena said. “The Department of PRNS worked with San Jose Municipal Water to evaluate the site for a well, but ultimately the site was not compatible for water supply uses.”

    The park’s construction didn’t formally begin until late 2018, and less than a year later the park appears to be completed. Now, the only thing holding back the park’s opening is the vegetation — it needs an extra month to settle, so it won’t be easily uprooted by any visitors. The fence will remain until then.

    The park’s designer, Richard Deutsch, said he read a memoir penned by Chang’s mother to better understand the person he was honoring. He tried to give the park an aesthetic that would honor Chang’s memory as an activist, placing some of her most well-known quotes throughout the walking area.

    “It’s in the symbolism,” said Chang’s mother. “All about the power of one — which was her motto and conviction. She really put her mind to that philosophy.”

    Other monuments are scattered throughout the park reflecting Chang’s legacy, such as a ripple effect in the grass emanating from a stone — demonstrating the amplifying effect one can have on the world around them.

    “It has been a while,” said California Assemblymember Kansen Chu, whose district includes the park. “They have been working on this for a long time, I’m glad the park has finally come to fruition.”

    Contact San José Spotlight intern Yale Wyatt at [email protected] or follow @yalewhat on Twitter.

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