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Chicano Park: A National Treasure

April 12, 2013

By Pablo J. Sáinz

Danzantes participate at the Chicano Park Day anniversary celebration.

Danzantes participate at the Chicano Park Day anniversary celebration.

Chicano Park’s murals are the history textbooks of la raza, the informal means of communication among Mexicans, the monument to the past struggles of Chicanos in San Diego.

The almost 70 murals in the park are a testimony to events in the history of the United States, of Mexico and of the Chicano community, but above all, these murals emphasize the culture that residents of Mexican descent have forged in Barrio Logan, the heart of Mexican culture in San Diego.

On the park’s walls are represented such Mexican heroes as Benito Juárez, César Chávez, Frida Kahlo and the Virgin of Guadalupe. They also tell the story of the founding of Tenochtitlán and of the Mexican Revolution.

Other murals depict more recent events, including the takeover of the park by Barrio Logan’s residents on April 22, 1970.

“Chicano Park: Aztlán’s Jewel & a National Chicano Treasure” is the theme of the 43rd annual Chicano Park Day to be held on Saturday, April 20, 2013, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, in historic Chicano Park, located in the Barrio Logan community, south of downtown San Diego. This family event is free and open to the public.

This year’s Chicano Park Day anniversary celebration is dedicated to Chicano Park and the Chicano Park Murals being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“Chicano Park is our jewel, our treasure,” said Tommie Camarillo, president of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, the organization that manages and takes care of the park. “Chicanos have had to fight for it since the beginning. Nothing has been given to us for free. No politician can take credit for it.”

Visitors to Chicano Park Day will experience traditional music and dance. Also, live bands performing this year include Quino & Friends, Agua Dulce, Cumbia Machin, among others.

The keynote speaker will be Josie Talamantez, the Chicano Park Steering Committee member who had the original idea of trying to get Chicano Park in the National Register of Historic Places.

“We have to recognize Josie, because for many years she worked for this to become a reality,” Camarillo said.

Founded on April 22, 1970, Chicano Park was the result of a long struggle between Chicano artists and activists and the city of San Diego.

At the turn of the last century, Logan Heights had a sizable Mexican community. After World War II, the city government began to allow the opening of yonkes, or junk-yards, and factories that contaminated the environment. In the mid-1960s, the construction of Interstate 5 cut the neighborhood in two, leaving many families without a home.

In the spring of 1970, officials began building a parking lot for the California Highway Patrol on a vacant lot. It was then that residents came together and, along with hundreds of students, seized the land on April 22 and demanded it be turned into a community park.

The activists were looking for a place where residents could learn more about their roots through art.

Now, Chicano Park is home to more than 40 murals and a stage.

Because historical events, and current issues like immigration, are depicted from a Chicano point of view, people who disagree with that viewpoint have damaged the murals many times. Vandals have covered the murals with graffiti, thrown paint on them and even shot at them.

In 1979, a group of people wearing the white robes of the Klu Klux Klan and carrying signs that read “White Power” launched paint bombs at the murals. Also, time and the elements have damaged then bit-by-bit.

Many of the murals were painted “guerrilla style” during the struggle to save the park, and archival techniques were not used.

Without the murals, recognized worldwide for their cultural and historical value, Chicano Park wouldn’t be the same, said Chicano Park muralist Victor Ochoa.

“The murals rescue the historic part that makes the park a spiritual place, not just a concrete jungle beneath the Coro-nado Bridge,” he said.

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