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Aztec dance and Protest Defines Chicano Park

By Pablo J. Sáinz

Danza Azteca represents the spiritual part of the Chicano Park Day celebration.
Danza Azteca represents the spiritual part of the Chicano Park Day celebration.

There are two important aspects about Chicano Park.

There is the cultural part, where danza azteca has been an essential component of the park’s history for 40 years.

Then there’s the political part, the struggles the Chicano community of San Diego has faced for 45 years since the take over of the land by activists where the park now sits.

Both aspects of the historic site are inseparable, and both will be celebrated on Saturday, April 25th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the 45th Chicano Park Day, under the theme El Movimiento Continues: 45 years of Protesta, Cultura, y 40 years of Danza Azteca.

This year’s keynote speaker will be long-time San Diego Chicano activist Herman Baca, who has been an integral part of the park since its founding.

“It is an honor for me to speak, where the Chicano community has gathered for the last 45 years,” said Baca, who is director of the Committee on Chicano Rights. “The historical significance of Chicano Park is that it was created out of struggle, sacrifice, a takeover, and the occupation of La Tierra Mia (our land) thru the self-determination of the Chicano community.”

The occupation of Chicano Park began in April, 1970, after community activists prevented state and city officials from constructing a California Highway Patrol station in Barrio Logan.

For Baca, the celebration is a remembrance of the many persons, past and present that struggled and have passed, continue the struggle in the movement.

And although much has been accomplished in 45 years, Baca said that, unfortunately, many of the same issues remain. The activist said that in 1970 there were about seven million Chicanos/Latinos, and in the 2010 Census there were 55 million and growing.

“They are the same, and worse than when I became involved in 1968,” he said. “Why? Because there are more of us with less of what is necessary to correct the myriad of issues and problems that afflict our people in the U.S.”

During the 1970 take-over of Chicano Park, Baca was with MAPA (Mexican-American Political Association).

“I helped politically, and with whatever was needed along with hundreds or thousands of persons from San Diego County, and other communities throughout California,” he said.

Baca is scheduled to speak at 12:15 p.m. at the kiosko.

Just like protesta and political activism have played a major role in Chicano Park history, so has danza azteca for the past 40 years, when danzantes began to meet at the park to establish danza troupes to train the next generation.

Juan Flores, who coordinates danza for Chicano Park Day, said that danza azteca represents the spiritual part of the celebration.

“Danza is our way to connect with our ancestors, with our traditions,” he said. “We remember our culture through music, song, worship.”

Flores is co-founder of Danza Calpulli Mexhica. He said that danza azteca helps Chicano youth stay focused, and off the streets.

“Danza gives them pride, a sense of culture,” he said. “It also gives them discipline, and keeps them out of trouble.”

Chicano Park muralist Mario Torero said that he painted a mural in honor of danzante Florencio Yescas.

“He was a friend who I knew when he first arrived in California de Aztlan in the late 60’s bringing with him the first time that we were exposed again to our Aztec ancestry though his mastery of Aztec Dancing,” Torero said.

To learn more about Chicano Park Day, and to see a complete program, please visit

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