Chicano Park gathering
Hundreds of people gather at Chicano Park to celebrate and learn its history
Lilyana Espinoza | News Editor | The USD Vista
Earlier this month hundreds of people gathered at Chicano Park, a National Historic Landmark about 15 minutes away from the University of San Diego, to partake in an educational tour day.
Although these educational days are planned regularly by the Chicano Park Steering Committee (CPSC), a group established in 1970 made of people who work as stewards of the park, law enforcement was present at the park before the event. This was due to a group of people who claimed to be at the park for a “Patriotic Picnic.” The main group labeled themselves as the Bordertown Patriots.
Ethnic Studies professor Alberto Pulido, a member of the CPSC who attended the gathering, spoke about what he saw upon arriving at the park.
“When we arrived, law enforcement had been there in full force,” Pulido said. “They had divided the street, put up barriers, there was S.W.A.T. with machine guns, maybe 50-100 officers who were visible, and maybe another 10 vans with officers who were not visible. That was the state of the gathering.”
The main dispute was about which flag should be waving in the center of the park. Currently there is an Aztlan flag at the core of the park while an American flag waves by the veterans memorial. The Bordertown Patriots were at Chicano Park because they wanted an American flag to wave in the center of the park.
Theatre professor Evelyn Cruz attended the gathering that day and found it unfortunate that the appearance of the Bordertown Patriots resulted in people being misinformed on the purpose for the gathering.
“You would never know that there were many children, elders in wheelchairs, artists painting, and an inspirational panel of interfaith leaders speaking about inclusivity,” Cruz said.
To Cruz, the park has a deep personal connection due to the culture that is embedded in its scenery.
“As a Puerto Rican from the Bronx when the graffiti movement was in full swing, seeing these gorgeous murals was a connection that I couldn’t really comprehend at the time,” Cruz said. “It felt like a ‘home away from home,’ of sorts.”
Despite the group’s initial disruption to the educational tour day, the event continued as planned, according to Pulido.
“I didn’t have any reaction (to the opposing group) because we continued doing what we were doing,” Pulido said. “These folks showed up and they left. We still had our event. We had an entire agenda to follow.”
Pulido explained his favorite part of the day was the opening of the event that revolved around educating the public on the history of the park and speaking messages of inclusivity.
“I really liked the fact that we had Stan Rodriguez, who is an elder from the Kumeyaay Nation, to come and give words and prayer,” Pulido said. “Then we had the Kumeyaay bird singers because it opened up our gathering with a beautiful blessing and a time of peace and reflection. That set the tone and created the energy regardless of if we were Mexican, white, Black, indigenous, legal, or illegal.”
The park serves as a reminder of the history of the once-populated area of Barrio Logan that contained nearly 20,000 Chicano Barrio community members, as stated on the Chicano Park San Diego history webpage. The government took away much of the land as a result of the construction of the Coronado Bridge, and when plans formed in 1970 to take the land under the bridge as well, the CPSC negotiated with city officials. They managed to save the land and by doing so preserved the history of the Chicano people in the area.
Today, the park is filled with murals recognizing the history and culture of the Chicano people. Junior Bryan Cardenas, a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), felt a strong connection when in the park. Seeing the park flourish with Chicano culture is what drew him to care for the park.
“I knew that the park is a site of resistance, how the community was dissatisfied with the fact that a ton of families were displaced because of the building of the Coronado bridge, and that they wanted to do something about it to take back the land,” Cardenas said. “Also, with all the murals and building of history and community through the art that was represented there, I felt that it was a symbol of my identity as I started to learn more about what it means to be Chicano.”
Cardenas implores people to recognize that while caring for this country, they should also care for Chicano Park and its history. This was the fundamental reason for the educational gathering organized by the CPSC.
“Chicano park is a National Historic Landmark, so if people claim to care for their country, this is a part of the country now,” Cardenas said. “It is national history. Consider the fact that Chicano history is a part of American history. We are a part of this country and we are not going anywhere.”
For 48 years, the park has been a symbol to the Chicano community of the hardships they have faced. Various individuals and groups have dedicated time and hard work to help the park grow. In 1980 Chicano Park was recognized by the San Diego Historical Society as a San Diego Cultural Resource. Last year, the park was declared a National Historic Landmark. This year Chicano Park will celebrate its 48th annual Chicano Park Day on April 21 to share the culture and history of the park, and the members of the community.