I went to San Diegoâ€™s Chicano Park to see the beautiful murals. What I found is a park that is beautiful, but not in the way parks are traditionally beautiful. Its beauty is not in huge expanses of rolling hills like Los Angelesâ€™ Griffith Park, or disappear-from-the-city beauty like New Yorkâ€™s Central Park.
The beauty of Chicano park is more like the beauty represented by Gloria Gainerâ€™s song â€˜I Will Surviveâ€™.
Chicano Park has most of the usual park items: green squares of grass with white concrete walkways, a childrenâ€™s playground, a bandstand, a fountain, a basketball court and picnic benches. It also has some unusual items; cactus and agave gardens and a tall thin candle shrine with a patron saint stuck to the front.
But itâ€™s none of these usual park items that first catch the visitors eye, itâ€™s the massive columns holding up the freeway thrumming overhead.
This park is hemmed in on all sides, by the grass below, by buildings and walls on all sides, and by flying concrete overpasses.
There is so much concrete in the sky above Chicano Park, itâ€™s as if the sky is gray, rather than blue.
This area of San Diego, on the eastern edge of the bay, became Barrio Logan in 1905. In the years prior to World War II, it became one of the largest communities of Hispanic Americans in the west. It stretched from the low hills over-looking the bay, all the way down to the waterfront where there was a pier and a beach.
During WWII the pier and the beach were commandeered by the military for the war effort. The waterfront property was never returned to the community.
About this time the zoning laws were changed from residential to mixed use. Almost immediately 48 automotive junkyards moved in, as well as numerous chemical and industrial businesses. All of these new businesses sat next to, and in between, the existing homes.
The residents grumbled about the destruction of their neighborhood, but at this time the community had no say in local politics, so the grumbles were just that, quiet grumbles that changed nothing.
In 1965 the 5 freeway was built, cutting Barrio Logan directly in half. Now the main cultural landmark, a church, had a 40-foot concrete wall right by its side that separated it from the speeding cars and half the community.
After the freeway was finished, the Coronado Bridge was built. It connects the island of Coronado to the mainland, using the new freeway as its connection. The bridge meets the freeway in a T-junction, that looks like the old Atari logo, or the roots of a tree.
All of those roots stand in the sky over Chicano Park, but at this time it was not yet a park.
It was now the late 60â€™s and things began to change in Barrio Logan, like they did in the rest of the country.
The Hispanic Community, and Barrio Logan, both of whom traditionally had no say in government, began to find their voice, began to stand up for their community.
The community asked for, and received promises, that this small parcel of land, half hidden underneath the bridge, would become their park.
In April of 1970 the bulldozers moved in and began to dig up the land. But they were not building a new park, but a new California Highway Patrol office.
The community was outraged at the broken promise, and promptly occupied the park. They took it over by the sheer force of numbers, stopping the bulldozers and planting gardens with cactus and agave.
There were 14 days of occupation before the local government finally relented and officially turned the area into a park.
As the park was being built, the community decided to cover all the concrete walls and columns and overpasses with murals. Murals depicting the history of the Americas, murals of famous men and women of history and the local community, murals displaying current culture and murals of the struggle of this particular Hispanic community.
Chicano park is just a park, made with grass and concrete and paint. But it is also much more than that. Itâ€™s a symbol of a communityâ€™s struggle. The struggle to not be over looked, the struggle to have a voice. And a community that made something beautiful from chunks of concrete.
[ Colossus by Mario Torero, Mano Lima, Laurie Manzano., 1974
Renovated, 1989: Mario Torero, Mano Lima, Laurie Manzano.]
[Varrio Si. Yonkes No! Raul Jose Jacquez, Alvaro Millan, Victor Ochoa, Armando Rodriguez, 1977 Restored, 1989: Raul Jose Jacquez, Alvaro Millan, Victor Ochoa, Armando Rodriguez, Vidal Aguirre.]
The two above photographs are details of the same mural, one of the first I saw when I entered the park. When I saw “Varrio Si, Yonkes No!” I mistranslated it in my horrible Spanish into “Locals Yes, Yankees No!”
But I was completely wrong.
The phrase was the rallying cry against junkyards -as yonkes means junkyards- and to gain their community back from the industries that were taking over and destroying their homes and backyards.
La Revolucion Continua, or The Revolution Continues painted on the underside of a freeway overpass, in Chicano Park, San Diego.
A mural of car culture, painted on a concrete bridge support for the Coronado Bridge, within a basketball court, in Chicano Park, San Diego.
A mural of a warrior in Chicano Park, San Diego.
Chicano Power. Detail of a mural in Chicano Park, San Diego.
“Let me say at the risk of seeming ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of Love.” -Che on a mural in Chicano Park, San Diego.