A SpaceTime Tour of Chicano Park
The I-5 cuts through the heart of San Diego, it can take you to see many sights in this wonderful city. Interconnected to it is the awe-striking and beautiful Coronado bridge which brings you to the posh Coronado island. But instead of exploring these let’s take a quick detour through space and time. Hidden underneath this iconic mega-infrastructure, under the tires of the bustling city, lies a hidden piece of history full of life, art, and culture.
Figure 1: "La Revolucion Mexicana" by Victor Ochoa, 2012
Let’s take an exit down exit 14B toward Cesar E Chavez Pkwy and 130 years into what was once called East End. It’s 1910 and the Mexican Revolution is starting to boil in Mexico. The people have decided to wage war against a dictatorship leading to a bloody civil war. In the midst of the war heroes, revolutionaries, and dictators were the Mexican people afraid for their lives. In response, many immigrated, and some found themselves resettling in what is now Barrio Logan. The population swelled even more during WWI when policies restricted Asian and European immigration. However, after the war, the labor of Mexican Immigrants was no longer desired. The federal government began to target Mexican immigrants and began to harass them out of the country. The Mexican community in barrio logan suffered greatly. “substandard housing, malnutrition, unemployment, lack of education, disease, and high infant mortality rate” permeated the neighborhood (Griswold del Castillo 2007). In response to the struggles of refugees, The Neighborhood House was created. It was described as “a recreational place, a social place where all the people would go. During that time the entire community was in a low socio-economic position and [the Neighborhood House] was the only place to go. They provided this healthy supportive environment for something they never would have experienced” (Norene and Natalia Riveroll, September 2009).
Figure 2: “Nacimiento del Parque Chicano and Astrological” Chart by Dolores Serrano-Velez, 1997
History tends to repeat itself. Let us travel a few decades or so. The Mexican community eventually flourished into the second largest Chicano Barrio community on the West Coast. With a middle-class community and waterfront access, the residents made a home for themselves in Barrio Logan. However, during the time of WWII, to what can be described as racist architecture, the community’s access to the waterfront was reduced. In addition, the construction of the Interstate 5 and the Coronado Bridge bisecting the neighborhood resulted in the displacement of about 15,000 residents. In response to the continued destruction of their community, they demanded a park to be built. After some broken promises and resistance from the local government, the community took the land by force and built their park. After all the destruction of property El Barrio wanted a park for the community, a social place for gathering, and for children to play in. Even if this seemed like a relatively small victory it was a victory, nonetheless.
Let’s travel forward a few more decades and take a look at the park that eventually sprouted to become Chicano Park- the artistic imprint of over a hundred years of struggle and community of immigrants and refugees in Barrio Logan. As you drive through the park one thing is evident, the goals of the struggle for Chicano park were fruitful. The park teams with life and culture, mariachi bands playing, artist painting murals, and children playing.
Figure 3: "Skater" by Cris Corona, 2016
If you start to make way through the west side park, you’ll find yourself in the skate park section. Dozens of wonderfully stylistic and fun murals surround the skaters riding the halfpipe. All the murals pay homage and influence of Chicano and Latino culture in some way or another. You’ll be doing kickflips with Aztec Gods and calacas!
Figure 4: Anastasio Hernandez Rojas” by Victor Ochoa, 2020
Following ahead the tone of the art clashes drastically with that of the skatepark as a more melancholy subjects are depicted. Towering behind the skatepark stands a beautiful and vibrant mural. Titled “Anastasio Hernandez Rojas” the mural was led by artist Victor Ochoa as a memorial to Anastasio and all other victims whose life have been taken by injustice at the border. The mural itself is littered with culturally relevant symbolism and references to various victims from systemic violence. Most striking and bold is the body two lifeless children floating down a river to represent the lives of children who died trying to make it to America only to meet their end.
Do not be mistaken, this park is not somber, and it is not a cemetery. It is full of life, and it is full of hope, but it is also scarred, and it is mourning injustices. Yes, this park is a collection of art that depict the struggle and history of immigrants and refugees in Barrio Logan, but it is also it’s center for community. Nowhere is this more evident than in my favorite mural. Far into the edges of the park, underneath a low bridge, hidden in a corner is a tiny mural riddled with crude stich figures and other simple drawings. This is the Children’s Mural, drawn by dozens of children through the ages. The disorganized and less unified art reminds one of the simple pleasures of drawing in the walls. It reminds you that this park was primarily build for children and it is a joy to see them enjoy this place. Chicano park is a record of our histories and a cradle for our future.