By Ana Gomez Salcido (Photograph by Mario A. Cortez)
After a series of struggles in the Barrio Logan community, the proposed construction of a California Highway Patrol station in 1970 was the last straw for neighborhood residents and eventually lead to the construction of Chicano Park, which celebrated its 46th Anniversary this past Saturday.
“We felt we were getting dumped on again,” said community activist and Barrio Logan community leader, Rachel Ortiz. Ortiz had marched with Cesar Chavez in the years leading up to the creation of Chicano Park.
The struggles faced by the community of Barrio Logan trace back to the waterfront access taken away during World War II, the 1950s when city officials rezoned the area to allow commercial and industrial activity literally next to homes with families, and the splitting of the neighborhood in the 1960s by the construction of the I-5 and the Coronado Bridge.
In April 1970, when residents became aware of the plan to build a police station and jail in their neighborhood instead of a park, community members and college students launched what would be a 12-day protest to stop construction of the police station.
After months of negotiations, the City Council approved the park design by the community residents organized as the Chicano Park Steering Committee.
That neighborhood committee still manages the activities of the City-owned park.
“The community got together and fought for the park,” said Consuelo Manriquez, Member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee. “Since then, all the murals have gone up, they really represent the history of our people here in Barrio Logan.”
“They started painting the murals to fix the park up. Lots of muralists came and the California Arts Council was what helped as a consultant for the artists and residents,” said Ortiz to La Prensa San Diego. “This is an open air museum.”
Chicano Park represents the power of the people and the self-determination of Barrio Logan residents. Without the struggle of these people, there would not be a public space that now serves as meeting point for families in Barrio Logan and as a legacy for future generations.
The stories of struggle of the Mexican-American and Latino community in San Diego are represented on the walls of the Coronado Bridge and Interstate 5, that first separated Logan Heights from Barrio Logan. Nowadays, the murals serve as reminder of the triumph of this community.
“On the murals you can see Mexican Independence Day, the maquiladoras with the women sewing, the rise of Aztec art and culture, migrant farm workers. We also have Frida Kahlo and Our Lady of Guadalupe,” said Manriquez.
Chicano Park has received international recognition as a major public art site for its mural paintings and it’s protected by being listed on the California Register of Historical Resources since 1997, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 2013.
The Park and its murals have become such an important part of the community that, in the mid-1990s, when CalTrans needed to perform earthquake retrofits to the Coronado Bridge, state engineers worked to minimize the impact on the murals. State funds were provided to repair and restore murals and enhance the Park.
At that time, CalTrans Senior Environmental Planner Martin Rosen acknowledged that Caltrans’ “history in Barrio Logan is less than stellar,” and he added that during freeway construction in the 1960s “the path of least resistance was often through neighborhoods least likely to legally challenge the decision-makers.”
With memories of these struggles and victories, the community celebrated Chicano Park’s 46th Anniversary this month. With “Empowering Our Youth, Ensuring Our Traditions Live On” as this year’s motto, the values and accomplishments of Barrio Logan were celebrated during Chicano Park Day.
“Everything is tied to tradition. We want our youth to really continue with these traditions and to not get lost through the politics of today. We want to make sure that our youth knows our history and heritage,” said Manriquez.
The celebration, which began at 10 a.m., included performances by Mariachi Imperial, ballet folklorico, Aztec dance performances, a speech by the Brown Berets de Aztlan, and a lowrider show.
“We like everything, the dances, cars, food, and the family environment. This is our second time coming and we plan to come again,” said City Heights resident, Enrique Carrillo. “I come here with all my family, I think it’s a good tradition to celebrate Chicano culture, I haven’t seen anything like this.”
Thousands of people enjoyed the park’s celebration, which featured stands ranging from Mexican food to artists selling their artwork, clothing, and accessories featuring Chicano motifs.
There were also information tables where people could register to vote for the upcoming elections.
“We are becoming the largest population that can vote in the United States, and that can change the politics of our people and we have to do that because we have little representation,” said Manriquez.
“I love this event, I think it’s wonderful, I haven’t seen another event like this,” said Dee Garcia, who traveled from Palmdale, California to participate on the low-rider car show.
“Every year is the same, you can’t see the grass because of all the people that come here. People from around the world come here,” added Manriquez.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mario A. Cortez contributed to this note.