By Mark R. Day
When a group of outraged Chicanos marched on a vacant piece of land in Barrio Logan back in 1970 and claimed it for the community, they probably never realized they were making history.
That was the birth of Chicano Park, and those protests, along with the park itself, have become the stuff of legend.
Recently, the Chicano Park Steering Committee received a lifetime achievement award from San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO). The award was presented to committee members Josephine Talamantez and Tommie Camarillo for 43 years of stewardship over the park.
Talamantez received a separate commemorative plaque for nominating the park to get it listed on the national parks registry last January. Of eight award categories, the lifetime achievement ward is the most significant category.
“The site now becomes a national treasure,” said Talamantez. “It validates Chicano history and the establishment of a park as a tipping point in the relationship between the City of San Diego and its raza community.
Talamantez recounted this fractured relationship in an interview with La Prensa San Diego. “It goes back to the 1890s when Mexicans were here first and when San Diego was nothing. We lived in Logan Heights because we couldn’t live anywhere else.”
In the early 1900s it was the place where Mexicans, blacks, and so called “Orientals” lived, she added. “We had a self-contained enclave here with our own social, political and spiritual centers. It was a booming community until federal transportation policies dictated otherwise.”
After World War II, 20,000 people lived in Logan Heights, Talamantez explained. “But by the 1970s, with the advent of junk yards, hazardous waste dumps, Interstate 5 and the Coronado bridge, the population dropped to 5,000 people.”
Barrio Logan is not only a history of buildings and freeways, but of people, of immigrant families, said Talamantez. Her grandmother Migrated from Mexico in 1908, and her mother worked in the canneries.
The struggle continues, she added, with industry claiming more sites for big businesses like Walmart while residents struggle to create more small businesses and to protect existing homes from gentrification.
Recently, when an industry consultant learned that childhood asthma was a serious problem in Logan heights, he asked why they chose to live there, noted Talamantez. “My mouth dropped open. “Did he really say that? It was really shocking.”
“Before I-5 and the Coronado bridge, there were pristine houses that never should have been torn down,” said Talamantez. “Much was lost, but building Chicano Park was our attempt to preserve what we could of our community. And we did it.”
Mark R. Day, firstname.lastname@example.org