Chicano Park: A Community’s Legacy of Resistance

Chicano Park, Barrio Logan (San Diego) California                                                                          

Location: Under the Coronado Bridge on the corner of Logan Ave. & César Chávez Blvd.

Chicano Park Steering Community: (619) 563-4661    

www.chicano-park.com                             

Chicano Park is a space south of San Diego’s iconic Gaslamp District, a place that is often avoided by the flocks of tourists who frolic underneath the warm California sun. The park sits as an alternative narrative to the common identity of San Diego’s Spanish mission and western settler heritage. This community space was born out of a collective act of defiance to reclaim and occupy land that had been ravished by industrial ambition and freeway expansion.

Ironically, the pillars that once divided the community of Barrio Logan are now the foundation that shapes this rich Chicanx landscape. Due to its proximity to the international U.S./Mexico border and access to the San Diego bayfront, the community of Logan Heights has a steep linage of bodies in movement. This transnational community has become a haven for Mexican immigrants and an incubator for Chicanx culture. The barrio’s cosmic causeways are lined with mercados, panaderías, and paleteros spreading sweet and savory treats that nourished its communal body. However, this boisterous community has always diligently fought to move away from the shadows of downtown politics and weaponized zoning laws. Chicano Park lies at the nucleus of Barrio Logan and serves as the reincarnation of the Aztec homeland of Aztlán.

Juan Jaquez, Raul Jaquez, Roberto Jaquez, “Nuestra Tierra Sagrada” (2012)    

During the 1940s, Logan Heights was home to the second-largest Chicanx community on the west coast, with a population nearing 20,000 residents.[1] The barrio’s population consisted mostly of working-class residents, who labored at the local Bumble Bee tuna fish cannery or naval shipyard that blockaded the waterfront from civilian enjoyment. Barrio Logan residents have an ongoing strenuous relationship with local government officials dating back to 1957 when they converted the community’s zoning from residential to industrial usage, which turned a vibrant space into a wasteland of cluttered junkyards full of industrial debris.[2]

This attack was merely the first bombardment the barrio would endure at the hands of outside economic interest. Nearly a decade later, with the construction of Interstate 5, which runs the length of the west coast connecting the border towns of Tijuana, México with Vancouver, Canada, would split the community of Barrio Logan in half.[3] Before this severed wound could clot, and the barrio could shed a tear for their displaced loved ones, the community was lacerated once again with the Coronado Bridge’s completion. The bridge stretched from the soil towards the heavenly clouds to bond the affluent Coronado Island that laid in the distance to Downtown’s commerce center. According to San Diego Union-Tribune writer Daniel Hernandez,with the bridge’s completion in 1969, the community of Logan Heights lost an “estimated 5,000 homes and businesses.”[4] All that laid under the wake of commercial progress was a community in mourning and the faint traces of old property markers that resembled tombstones of where homes once stood.

Vidal Aguirre and Felipe Adame, “Kiosko-Founding of Tenochtitlán” (1978)

In the aftermath of the fracturing of Barrio Logan, the residents would petition the San Diego City Council numerous times to transform the desolate land that was displaced under the Coronado Bridge into a park in hopes of reviving the desolate space.[5] Historian Eric Avila writes, that “in June 1969, the state of California agreed to lease a 1.8-acre parcel of land to the city of San Diego to be used for a community park in Logan Heights.”[6] However, like many indigenous treaties made with the United States government, this pact was broken. On April 22, 1970, San Diego City College student Mario Solis observed that the State had decided to turn that parcel of land designated for the Barrio Logan park into a California Highway Patrol substation.[7] The news spread through the Barrio like wildfire. The community, mostly comprised of local students, occupied the land preventing the bulldozers from staking claim to the soil that rightfully belonged to the community. The occupation lasted 12 days when the community residents began to transform the earth with their bare hands, planting nopales and other flowers that can be seen today.[8] Singer and former Chicano Park Steering Community president Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez with his band Los Alacranes commemorated the community’s monumental victory of solidarity and endurance with a balled simply entitled “Chicano Park.” This song has become a rite of passage to the Chicanx community of San Diego. It serves as an orchestral retelling of the event that decolonized a piece of land under the Coronado Bridge in the tradition of indigenous oral history. The song can be heard every Sunday blaring from the speakers of passing lowriders on their weekend procession to “El Parque.” Chicano Park has become an artist’s playground with empty canvases to fill and limitless opportunities to fight the effects of erasure with every flick of the paintbrush.   

This small space has now become the community’s “zócalo,” and its walls are adorned with painted hieroglyphs that display a people’s history missing from the pages of textbooks. As visitors walk the park’s hallow grounds, one can bask in the beauty of Chicanx imagery and culture. The pylons that support the blade that once cut through the barrio’s heart are now draped with Chicanx heroes such as Emiliano Zapata, Francisco “Pancho” Villa, Frida Kahlo, and César Chávez, which his name now graces the boulevard that runs adjacent to the park. In the center of the reincarnation of Aztlán lay the great “Mayan kiosko” in the shape of a Mesoamerican temple and painted on its façade is Tenochtitlán’s prophecy, the capital of the Aztec civilization.[9] The codices that grace the pillar walls help signify the decolonization of space and time. Each artists’ contribution is a confirmation that the people of Barrio Logan will not be elapsed or pushed out in the name of American exceptionalism. The grey muted concrete pillars that were once dull and lifeless are now as vibrant as those who call this space home.

Victor Ochoa and Team, “Anastasio Hernández Rojas Memorial Mural” (2020)

On December 5, 2016, the Chicano Park Preservation Act was introduced on the congressional floor in hopes of preserving the park’s place as a site of American historical and cultural significance.[10] Over the years, the park has grown from the original 1.8-acre space to the current 7.4-acre park that houses nearly fifty outdoor murals.[11] The murals continue to grow each year, with its latest contribution being dedicated this last September in remembrance of Anastasio Hernández Rojas, who was beaten and subsequently died under immigration custody.[12]The park walls will continue to be utilized by artists to critique the brutal treatment and harassment of marginalized communities. The park was baptized in the action of social protest and will continue to be reconfirmed as new generations pick up the torch that was lit during “El Movimiento” and passed down to cast out the shadows of injustice. The park has grown and evolved alongside the community, and this liminal space has nurtured countless San Diego artists in their pursuit of self-discovery while promoting social activism. 

Barrio Logan has now become home to numerous artisan workshops and galleries. On any given weekend, the barrio is filled with patrons from neighboring cities trying to soaking up Chicanx culture and lifestyle. The once hidden enclave is now the hippest zip code in San Diego, boasting endless breweries and eateries to go with your slice of barrio spice. The community of Barrio Logan has relentlessly survived the push of economic displacement. However, its newest antagonist has come in the form of gentrification. Historically, Logan Heights has been a predominantly renter-based community. With the generational homeowners who inherited family property choosing to sell to investment realtors, the demographic of Barrio Logan is now shifting away from the dense Chicanx community composition. The barrio’s topography is in a state of flux; some of the mercados have faded away with the invasion of supermarket chains, now bidding for brown dollars. Nevertheless, there is one constant sound that fills the street, the jingle of the paletero’s bell as he comes bearing sweet treats of sandiá, jamaica, and tamarindo, to name a few. As new faces come to settle in a land they once have written off, they are welcomed every Sunday to the drumming of Aztec dancers and the blessing of the sacred directions, and the realization that Chicano Park will forever be home to Aztlán. Barrio Logan residents may ebb and flow like the tide. However, every year around April 22, they return as monarch butterflies to the great kiosko to pay respects and celebrate the triumph that is Chicano Park.

Alexis Paul Monroy is a student at Claremont Graduate University and a resident of National City, California. His work concentrates on the sights, sounds, and transformational power of the street. As a lowrider, his goal is to spread a deeper consciousness and appreciation for street culture. Alexis received his Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from San Diego State University and was awarded “Outstanding Graduating Senior” by the department faculty. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies with the hopes of earning a Ph.D. in the near future.

A People's Guide to Los Angeles by Laura Pulido, Laura R. Barraclough, Wendy Cheng

This piece is modeled on the entries in A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, the great book by friends-of-the-blog Wendy Cheng, Laura Barraclough, and Laura Pulido.

Bibliography

Avila, Eric. The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Hernandez, Daniel. “Chicano Park 50 Years Later: Coronavirus Delays Celebration but Historic Moment Still Matters.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 24, 2020. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/local/story/2020-04-24/coronavirus-cancellation-50th-anniversary-chicano-park-day-murals-san-diego-veteranos.

Lopez-Villafaña, Andrea. “Artists Unveil Chicano Park Mural that Pays Homage.” The San Diego Union-Tribune, September 29, 2020. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/san-diego/story/2020-09-29/artists-unveil-chicano-park-mural-that-pays-homage-to-anastasio-hernandez-rojas-other-deaths-at-the-border.

Monroy, Alexis Paul. Chicano Park Photos. 2020. Digital Photography.   

Mulford, Merilyn. Chicano Park. 1989. New York, NY: Cinema Guild, 2013. Web. https://youtu.be/hXwZLo8hrp4.

U.S. Congress. Committee on Natural Resources. Chicano Park Preservation Act: Report (to Accompany H.R. 3711). 114th Cong., 2d sess., 2016. H.R. Rep. 114-845. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CRPT-114hrpt845/pdf/CRPT-114hrpt845.pdf


[1] Merilyn Mulford, Chicano Park (1989; New York, NY: Cinema Guild, 2013), Web.

[2] Eric Avila, The Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 161.

[3] Avila, The Folklore of the Freeway, 162.

[4] Daniel Hernandez, “Chicano Park 50 Years Later: Coronavirus Delays Celebration but Historic Moment Still Matters,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 24, 2020,

https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/local/story/2020-04-24/coronavirus-cancellation-50th-anniversary-chicano-park-day-murals-san-diego-veteranos.

[5] Hernandez, “Chicano Park 50.”

[6] Avila, The Folklore of the Freeway, 164.

[7] Hernandez, “Chicano Park 50.”

[8] Avila, The Folklore of the Freeway, 164.

[9] Mulford, Chicano Park.

[10] U.S. Congress Committee on Natural Resources, Chicano Park Preservation Act: Report (to Accompany H.R. 3711), 114th Cong., 2d sess., 2016, H.R. Rep. 114-845, 2-4, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CRPT-114hrpt845/pdf/CRPT-114hrpt845.pdf.

[11] U.S. Congress Committee, Chicano Park Preservation Act, 2-4.

[12] Andrea Lopez-Villafaña, “Artists Unveil Chicano Park Mural that Pays Homage,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, September 29, 2020, https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/communities/san-diego/story/2020-09-29/artists-unveil-chicano-park-mural-that-pays-homage-to-anastasio-hernandez-rojas-other-deaths-at-the-border.

Author: Guest

We are legion.

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