Stories

South Bay’s ‘Fronterizo’ History now on Display

January 30, 2018

By Mario A. Cortez

Visitors to the Chula Vista Civic Center Library can learn about the cultural heritage of the South Bay region through a new exhibit which narrates eight generations of cross-border histories.

Fronterizos: A History of the Spanish-Speaking People of the South Bay, an exhibit hosted at the library’s Chula Vista Heritage Museum, focuses on the settlers and migrants who have made the southwest edge of San Diego County, and the ranchos of old Tijuana, their home.

Local historian and South Bay resident Barbara Zaragoza, who curated the exhibition along with the South Bay Historical Society, explained to La Prensa San Diego that while many communities have recorded their history, the South Bay region doesn’t have a much of a historical record despite having notable settlements and neighborhoods.

“This is the first time someone has told the history of farmers in the Otay Valley, Old Town National City, and San Ysidro,” Zaragoza said to La Prensa San Diego.

The process of putting this exhibit together is one that lead Zaragoza to conduct over 50 interviews with people who shared stories of working in tuna canneries and citrus groves in the heydays of these industries. In her research, Zaragoza also found locals who can trace their heritage back to the first explorers of Alta California.

With many narratives taken into account, the exhibit gives a comprehensive look at the Hispanic population which shaped the history of the South Bay and its surrounding areas.

Along the west wall of the exhibit, visitors to the exhibit can see paintings, artifacts,and pictures from many historical periods such as the first Spanish incursions into Alta California, the California Republic days, the Mexican revolution, the rise of the Chicano movement, and more.

Display capsules spread out over the museum space feature pictures and text related to topics such as the history of the Otay Valley’s Mexican-American farmer families, Old Town National City, racing and gambling during the prohibition years, and Cesar Chavez’s presence in the South Bay.

A special display case honoring South Bay celebrities of Spanish-speaking backgrounds contains pictures of National City resident Rosie Mendez Hamlin, of Rosie and the Originals; San Ysidro native Joe Serrano, of Rayo Norteño; as well as actor and director Bill Virchis, among others.

“We are thrilled that the exhibit is bringing the community in to have a better understanding of what really helped shape this area into what it is,” said librarian Tanya Carr. “It is an exciting exhibit.”

The year-long exhibit opened on Saturday, Jan. 27, with a presentation by Zaragoza and songs from historical music group Los Californios.

Library staff estimate over 250 people attended the opening.

Fronterizos: A History of the Spanish-Speaking People of the South Bay is free and open to the public during regular library hours.

The exhibit is funded by a City of Chula Vista grant and the Friends of the Chula Vista Library nonprofit.

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