By Pablo J. Sáinz
For 44 years, since the takeover of the land where Chicano Park now sits, an army of volunteers, activists, and artists, has fought hard to maintain the park within the hands of the Barrio Logan community.
From stopping the state from building a California Highway Patrol station there to restoring the historical murals for future generations, la gente has been a strong voice for Chicano Park and everything it represents.
No surprisingly, this year’s Chicano Park Day celebration, which takes place on Saturday, April 19th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., has a very meaningful theme: La tierra es de quien la trabaja. The Land Belongs to Those Who Work It.
“The theme is related to the Chicano Park takeover back in 1970, and the community working the land in Chicano Park for the last 44 years,” said Tommie Camarillo, chairperson of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, the community organization that manages the park. “It is about the people who have volunteered all these years working the land in Chicano Park.”
Camarillo said that it is not just Chicano Park Steering Committee members or muralists who should be recognized, but also the whole range of people who have given in one way or another to make the park what it is today: A National Treasure, since it was included in the National Register of Historic Places, the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.
“We have fought a lot of battles to get it to where it is today,” she said. “It’s taken 44 years, and it is not because some politician or government agency. It is here because of the community. It has not been one or two people or a specific group of people. I’ve seen many people come and go, and all of them have contributed to this park.”
Fighters in favor of Chicano Park, as Camarillo said, include a long history of community members, long-time Barrio Logan residents who see the park as the heart of the Mexican community in San Diego.
Historian Josie Talamantez, who is also a member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee, for more than 14 years worked hard for Chicano Park to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, until early 2013, when the park was officially included.
Talamantez said that throughout its history, Barrio Logan residents have faced many battles, and maintaining Chicano Park is only one of them.
“The government has had no respect, no compassion for the people who live here,” Talamantez said, who added that she and others are working to create a Chicano Park museum in the next few years.
For Chicano Park muralist Victor Ochoa, Chicano Park Day is a great moment each year where young people can learn more about the history of the park.
“Our youth not only goes to Chicano Park Day to listen to the live entertainment or to see the car shows. I truly believe that when they’re in the park, they have a strong sense of community, a spiritual, cultural feeling,” said Ochoa, who each year teaches an art workshop for youth during the event. “Only by coming to Chicano Park do they learn about their history as Chicanos. They don’t teach them that in school.”
Councilmember David Alvarez, who represents Barrio Logan in the San Diego City Council, said that “Chicano Park exemplifies the broad cultural, political, economic and social history of the community.”
Alvarez, who grew up just a few blocks from the park, added that the Chicano Park Steering Committee deserves recognition for being “the park’s caretakers and watchdog on all political and social issues affecting it.”
For more information on Chicano Park Day 2014, please visit www.chicano-park.org.