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“The takeover of that land underneath the bridge in the barrio, that was a political expression. That was an expression of the community saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to take it anymore. We’re going to decide what’s going to happen with this land.’ And out of that political expression came cultural expression.”—Veronica Enrique
“The community spirit and pent-up energy exploded in free, uncomposed murals of bright color.”—Victor Ochoa
The area was originally known as the East End, but was renamed Logan Heights in 1905. The first Mexican settlers there arrived in the 1890s, followed soon after by refugees fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910. So many Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans settled there that the southern portion of Logan Heights eventually became known as Barrio Logan.
The original neighborhood reached all the way to San Diego Bay, with waterfront access for the residents. This access was denied beginning with World War II, when Naval installations blocked local access to the beach.
The denial of beachfront access was the initial source of the community’s resentment of the government and its agencies.
This resentment grew in the 1950s, when the area was rezoned as mixed residential and industrial. Junk dealers and repair shops moved into the barrio, creating air pollution, loud noise, and aesthetic conditions unsuitable for a residential area. Resentment continued to grow as the barrio was cleaved in two by Interstate 5 in 1963 and was further divided in 1969 by the elevated onramps of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge.
At this time, Mexicans were accustomed to not being included in discussions concerning their communities and to not being represented by their officials, so no formal complaint was lodged. This attitude began to change as the Civil Rights Movement unfolded in parallel with park development efforts. As various community campaigns coalesced under the banner of the Chicano Movement (for the right to organize and collectively bargain, led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers, the rights to the full benefits guaranteed to veterans, led by Dr. Hector P. Garcia of the American G.I. Forum, the right to equal and pertinent education, led by the student group MEChA which issued the Plan de Santa Barbara, for the rights of Mexicans guaranteed under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, (especially land grants and bilingual education) under Reies Tijerina, and for recognition of the historic contributions of Mexican-Americans and the validity of Mexican culture) so too did the political awareness and sense of empowerment grow in Barrio Logan
Community residents had long been demanding a park. The City Council had promised to build a park to compensate for the loss of over 5,000 homes and businesses removed for the construction of the freeway and bridge, as well as for the aesthetic degradation created by the overhead freeways supported by a forest of gray concrete piers. In June 1969, the park was officially approved and a site was designated, but no action was taken to implement the decision.
Years later, their demands were met, as the state of California agreed to lease to the City of San Diego a 1.8 acre-parcel of state land in Barrio Logan for a neighborhood park, located at the east approach to the bridge between Logan and National Avenues. The lease would run for a period of twenty years. James A. Moe, the director of state public works, explained that the state would prepare the site for public use. While the city would he responsible for maintenance and supervision of the land. Such an agreement would save the state twenty years of maintenance expenses.
Agreement on the land lease between the city and state did not instantaneously create the desired park. In November of 1969, city officials were awaiting the passage of a new state law which would allow the site in question and “other unused parcels of land near highways to be used as community recreational areas.” The law became effective November 9. The residents of Barrio Logan had obtained their tiny neighborhood park, with their eye on adjacent parcels for further expansion. As early as 1967 neighborhood representatives had informed city officials of their desire to obtain all the land under the bridge supports for a park in the heart of their barrio.
For five months residents waited for development of the park land to begin. On April 22, 1970, bulldozers at last appeared under the pylons, grading a three acre parcel of land adjacent to the park site. The bulldozers had not come to extend the park, but to prepare a site for the construction of a California Highway Patrol station. The parcel had been acquired by the state in August 1969 after the Coronado Bay Bridge had opened. Chicano residents were furious, believing they had been deceived by city and state officials regarding the development of their park. Demonstrators appeared at the site by 7 a.m. One infuriated resident, Mario Solis, informed residents of the situation, going from door to door. Students, informed of the events while in their Chicano Studies classes, . immediately descended upon the park. Joined by local residents both young and old, they formed a human chain around the bulldozers, forcing the construction work to stop, as was ordered by Captain V. J. Herz, the Highway Patrol commander on site. Residents began to work the land, planting cactus. magueys, and flowers. The Chicano flag was raised on a telephone pole, initiating the occupation of Chicano Park.
“Mike Arnador, director of the Community Action Council in that area,” expressed the community consciousness that demonstrations would continue, and that the city had been deceived by the state as to the use of the land in question. Spokesman for the students, Mario Solis, explained that the demonstrators would return the following morning at 7:30 a.m. Students would not return to class, but would remain on site.
Young people, at a meeting with city officials, began to stamp their feet in rhythm, shouting “Viva la raza!” one young man, identifying himself only as a student at San Diego State. directed his statement to city officials:
The word culture is used. To you culture means Taco Bell and the funny Mexican with-, the funny songs. We gave you our culture of a thousand years. What have you given us? A social system that makes us beggars and police who make us afraid. We’ve got the land and we are going to work it. We are going to get that park. We no longer talk about asking. We have the park.
During the occupation of Chicano Park, the three-acre parcel was transformed into a desert garden of plants and grass. Chicano youth and student organizations from Santa Barbara and Los Angeles traveled to Barrio Logan to offer their support. Women prepared meals for the demonstrators, while others donated trees, seeds, and fertilizer. The occupation represented the first time in which residents had come together in unity for themselves and their community.
On May 23, 1970 the bill was signed into law by Governor Reagan. Jesse Ramirez, representing the Chicano Federation. expressed the sentiments, of the community upon the closure of negotiations, The residents were pleased and vowed to work with city departments of Planning, Community Development and Parks and Recreation to develop their dream.
Celebrations of Chicano Park Day began in 1971 to commemorate the park takeover on April 22, 1970. One thousand people attended the first celebration which included cultural events and political speeches. Chicano Park Day is a symbol of community organization fighting to save a culture and a neighborhood, and should provide a positive example to other neighborhoods within San Diego that are fighting to stay alive.
All photos and mural descriptions provided by The History of Chicano Park. To learn more about the full story of Chicano Park, please visit, The History of Chicano Park and the Chicano Park Museum
Casteneda, Roger Lucero, 1978
Renovated, 1991: Guillermo Rosete, Felipe Adame, Octavio Gonzalez, Vidal Aguirre
Chicano Park Takeover documents the history of the physical takeover of park land on April 22, 1970. Most of the imagery was based on actual newspaper photographs and slides of the twelve-day occupation of the land.
The horizontal member of the pylon illustrates the community coming together in their efforts to cultivate the land, to have plants grow, to prepare a park for their neighborhood, as the Coronado Bay Bridge vanishes into the horizon. A child has climbed a lamp pole from which he hangs the flag of Aztlan with the three-faced image of the Indian, the Spanish, and the Mestizo, designed by Guillermo Aranda. The kiosk now occupies the land where the flag was first raised.
Moving down the vertical member, park activists stopped the bulldozers that had begun grading the land for a California Highway Patrol station. The lower section of the pylon presents a bird s-eye-view of Chicano Park with the kiosk, the bridge, and separate bridge pylons, including the mural of the Farmworker Family. The Tarahumara Indian carrying a torch refers to an ancient race, a variation of which is held in the barrio every December. When discussing the imagery of Chicano Park Takeover with Salvador Torres, he expressed the importance of having authenticity in Chicano art. He pointed out the Mestizo flag, explaining that Guillermo Rosete had originally painted the Mexican flag.
“Let’s understand something here about the Chicano Park Murals. There is a cultural nationalism that is coming through that may be important and it also may be over shadowing what is really important to us as individuals who were born and raised in this country as well as to those individuals who have immigrated to this country. But in terms of cultural nationalism, even if it s Chicano cultural nationalism, or Mexican nationalism, or American nationalism, there is an element in the arts that finds its way as an expression of nationalism. And I told Guillermo, “Guillermo, if we re going to restore our work here, I want you to authenticate our history. That was not the Mexican flag that went up on that pole.”
Toltecas en Aztlan:
Guillermo Aranda. Arturo Roman, Salvador Barrajas, Jose Cervantes, Sammy Llamas. Bebe Llamas, Victor Ochoa, Ernest Paul, Guillermo Rosete. Guilbert “Magu” Lujan & M.E.Ch.A. group from U.C. Irvine.
The Historical Mural was conceived to reinforce the positive contributions of Spanish, Mexican, and Mexican-American men in Chicano history. Victor Ochoa stated, “We thought that it was very important that our community realize that we had very important people in our history. And we did a series of portraits, to have more role models or heroes.” The Historical Mural was renovated in 1988, producing a brighter composition, while retaining the major historical figures.
The heroic portraits appear to float in the sky as guardians of the present generation. The revolutionaries signify both the political and artistic worlds. Recognizable portraits include Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos, early leaders of the Mexican War for Independence, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, leaders of the Mexican Revolution, Ruben Salazar, Reies Tijerina, Che Guevara, and Cesar Chavez in the central position. David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Picasso, and Pablo O’Higgins are presented for their roles in revolutionizing modern and contemporary art.
Victor Ochoa & Lowell Elementary School children. Renovated, 1986.
The Children’s Mural represents every child’s dream of being granted permission to write on the wall. The children who were allowed such a luxury were enrolled at Lowell Elementary School in Logan Heights. Victor Ochoa was their artistic supervisor. Ochoa was one of the first artists to work with Lowell in establishing a Children’s Mural Program.
The Children’s Mural has been referred to as a graffiti mural because of the variety of symbols presented in lieu of a unified composition. Stick figures of children and horses float upon an empty turquoise background. The imagery then becomes dense with backgrounds of various colors. Viva La Raza, Brown Power, and Chicano Power are slogans found within the mural as well as Mexican pyramids, the sacred heart, and the huelga eagle. A more unified section of the mural presents the profile of a native warrior in an elaborate costume and headdress, with a series of speech scrolls issuing from his mouth. In the background, a stepped pyramid appears from behind a native princess. The Children’s Mural is one of three murals painted by children in Chicano Park.
Tony de Vargas, Vidal Aguirre, Felipe Adame.
The painting on the ceiling of the kiosk illustrates the foundation myth of Tenochtitlan/Mexico City. The Founding of Mexico City presents three hunters along a lake shore, engaged by the presence of an eagle with one talon supporting its body upon a cactus while the other talon grasps a snake. According to tradition, the Mexica were to search for an island within the lake where they would find an eagle perched upon a cactus devouring a serpent. This was to be their home, Tenochtitlan, “‘place of the Cactus’ (Tenochtli)–or more precisely ‘place of the fruit of the cactus.” The founding of Tenochtitlan and the humble beginnings of the Aztec empire date to 1345.
An Aztec representation of the foundation myth is located on the back panel of the Temple of Sacred Warfare/Teocalli de la Guerra Sagrada, a stone monument which commemorated the New Fire Ceremony of 1507. An eagle is perched upon a cactus, holding in its mouth the Aztec glyph for Water-Fire – Steam rather than a serpent. The glyph is a metaphor for war and “was usually placed in front of the mouths of figures as if it were a form of speech, song, or exclamation. “
A post-conquest manuscript, the Codex Mendoza, illustrates the foundation myth on one of its seventy-two pages painted in 1541-1542. The emblem for Tenochtitlan, the eagle upon the cactus, is in the center of the upper square, with blue framing and diagonal elements representing the canals which connected the four sections of the city.
The pre- and post-conquest examples of the foundation myth have been presented to illustrate and emphasize the continuous threads of Mexican history as the basis for contemporary Chicano icons.
Felipe Adame, Guillermo Aranda, Arturo Roman, 1974
Renovated, 1992: Guillermo Aranda, Guillermo Rosete, Felipe Adame, Vidal Aguirre
The Tree of Life is a beautiful example of the successful process of mural renovation in Chicano Park. Due to the position of the pylon, the bright colors are bathed in shadows throughout the day.
The Tree of Life is dedicated to students throughout the stages of their lives. One side portrays students from grammar, middle, and high schools, while the other side portrays students from colleges and universities, dressed in graduation robes and holding their diplomas. A reclining skeleton is visually balanced by human figures climbing out of the earth, referring to the struggle between life and death.
A second interpretation of the skeleton refers to the myth of Quetzalcoatl and his journey to the underworld to retrieve the bones of past human races. From the buried bones of the ancestors, a new race will emerge.
The central section of the horizontal composition presents a fetus, flanked by the profiles of man and woman. Above the fetus is the swastika, symbolizing transformation, the growth process. Below the fetus is a variation of the Aztec ollin symbol to emphasize the transformation in life.
The fetus is nurtured by the tree of life, growing within an idyllic landscape. A mother breast-feeds her baby; children play in a cool, refreshing stream; primal man and woman float over their paradise. The landscape itself may refer to Tamoanchan, the mythical place of origin where Quetzalcoatl buried the ancestors’ bones. “In the Central Mexican codices, Tamoanchan is represented by a flowering cleft tree emitting blood.” The tree supporting the fetus does have new growth upon its branches; and the vertical line of dark brown below the ollin symbol could be viewed as a cleft within the tree. Tamoanchan, an ancient Mexican Eden or paradise, can be found within Chicano Park.