April 15, 2005

The History of Chicano Park

Commemorating 35 years of Struggle, 1970-2005

By Jess Santos

“Tierra, Liberación y Revolución!” Land, Liberty and Revolution, with these few powerful words, Emiliano Zapata set in motion the first social revolt of the 20 century: the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

Those same words have since passed through the lips of millions of Zapatista rebels, on both sides of the border to assert their rights and reclaim stolen land. And in 1970, they were also the words that Chicano activists cried out to affirm the liberation of Chicano Park.

Located in Barrio Logan, one of the oldest communities in San Diego, California, is the story of the historical parque, it is one of dedication, sacrifice and victory, a story that began long ago.

Mexican-Americans are said to have first settled in the barrio during the 1890s, but the 1950s signaled a new era for the community and its residents. The city’s zoning laws changed and the neighborhood began to take on a different look. What was once a fledgling Chicano community was transformed into an industrial junkyard, displacing hundreds of families and leaving hundreds more with toxic dumpsites in their backyards. But that was just the beginning, because they would suffer two more devastating blows in the years to come.

April 1970, Chicanos Protesting. Pictured from the “The Journal of San Diego History” website.

In 1963, the construction of Interstate 5 literally cut the neighborhood in half, pushing out even more familias, and in 1969, the Coronado Bay Bridge was built right in the Corazón of Barrio Logan. Massive pylons and on ramps replaced casas and mercados. Residents, who felt powerless against city, state and federal governments, quietly sat back and watched as their dreams slowly diminished. During the time that these changes were taking place, Mexican-Americans across the nation were beginning to wake up and fight back against such injustices.

Taking a cue from Chicano activists, the people of Barrio Logan began making demands of their own, one of which was to obtain land to construct a large recreational park that they could call their own. The state of California granted them a tiny parcel of land, but it wasn’t enough for what they had envisioned, so they submitted a request to obtain all of the adjoined land under the bridge. They patiently waited for a response.

On April 22, 1970, bulldozers finally appeared on the site and began to level out a huge three-acre piece of land, but they weren’t there to extend the people’s park, they were there to begin construction of a California Highway patrol station. Mario Solis, a brown beret and student at San Diego City College, was the first to hear of the news.

Angered he immediately ran out and gathered all of the friends and family that he could and together they all rushed out to the site, formed a human chain and stopped the bulldozers right in their tracks.

The Chicano Flag was raised and the land was seized.

Mike Amador, 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. 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.

During the next few days an unprecedented number of students, community activists and raza’s from Barrios throughout San Diego and other parts of Aztlan united to protect their Tierra. The protesters began to work the land, planting trees and flowers. They withstood several standoffs with the police. After 12 days city officials agreed to sit down and negotiate. The people of Barrio Logan finally got the green light to build their park, Chicano Park.

.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.

This April 22 will mark the 35 year anniversary of the historical day the Brown-skinned brothers and sisters took control of their own barrio and their own destiny. The Take over continues to symbolize the struggle for Land, Liberty and Justice. Que Viva Chicano Park! Que Viva La Raza!

Chicano Park Steering Committee Remembers and Celebrates

Jose Gomez - resident of Barrio Logan and one of the leaders of the struggle to create and preserve Chicano Park died in January, 1985.

Laura Rodriguez - elder and barrio resident also involved in the struggle to gain Chicano Park passed away in 1994.

Mike Amador - supported takevover, market business owner. Passed away in 2005

And those who participated in the takeover of the park:

Mario “Torero” Acevedo - takeover, artist muralist

Felipe Adame - takeover, City College student, artist muralist

Alurista - takeover, poet, writer, teacher

Gabby Alvarez - takeover, Brown Beret, deceased 1979

Guillermo Aranda - takeover, artist, co-founder Centro Cultural de la Raza

Angie Avila - supported takeover, staff Neighborhood House- “insider”

Cesar Barajas - takeover, resident, “hellraiser”

Gloria Bartlett - takeover, City College student

Oscar Borrego - supported takeover, Neighborhood House staff

Father Brown - supported takeover

Brown Berets - takeover

Rico Bueno - takeover, City College student, former chair CPSC - 1972, created logo

Ernesto Bustillos - takeover, San Diego High School student

Tomasa “Tommie” Camarillo - takeover, resident, activist (presently chair, CPSC)

Tomas “Coyote” Castañeda - takeover, artist, organizer

Father Chavez - supported takeover

Anastacia and Alfredo Cortez - takeover, barrio residents, (Alfredo is deceased)

Felipe Esparza - takeover, City College student

Mr. Estupion - supported takeover, former Vice Principal San Diego High School

Rosario Gallardo - takeover, barrio resident

Carlos Garcia - student

Manuel Garcia - resident

Ralph “Holy Mole” Gomez - takeover, Vietnam vet, brother of Jose Gomez

Richard Gomez - takeover, City College student

Alejandro Gonzalez - supported takeover, welfare rights organizer

Richard Gonzalez - supported takeover, former director Chicano Federation

Stevie Guttierez - takeover, SDSU student, Brown Beret

Maria Guadalupe Guzman - takeover, barrio resident

Max Hernandez - supported takeover, former chair Chicano Federation

Jesus Hueso - supported takeover, coordinated Headstart Program

Father Juan Hurtado - supported takeover, blessed the park

Marta Hurtado - takeover, resident, first group of strikers in the park

Margarita & Juan “Chiquis” Ledesma - takeover, planting, barrio residents

Tony Leyva - takeover, Brown Beret

Joe Loder - takeover, City College student

Carmen Lopez - supported takeover, staff of Planned Parenthood

Ronnie Lopez - takeover, City College student

Irene Mena - takeover, resident, activist, Brown Beret, elder

Gracia Molina de Pick - SDSU professor, took tools & students to the park

M.E.Ch.A./M.A.Y.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano en Aztlán/Mexican American Youth Association) chapters - takeover and supporters

Mike Nava - takeover, former chair, Brown Berets, co chair of CPSC, 1972

Rosa Olga Navarro - takeover, City College student

Victor Ochoa - takeover, artist, muralist, co-founder Centro Cultural de la Raza

Nano and Connie Ojeda - supported takeover, Nando worked for Neighborhood House

Joe “Kiki” Ortega - takeover, Brown Berets

Horacio Osuna - takeover, Brown Berets

Abran Quevedo - takeover, artist

Octaviano Quintero - takeover, Brown Berets, member CPSC, Jose Gomez Brigade

Jessie Ramirez - supported takeover, former director Chicano Federation

Gil Robledo - supported takeover, Chicano Studies teacher whose class included Josie Talamantez, Rico Bueno, David Rico and others central to the takeover of the Park

Graciela Romero - barrio resident supported takeover

Guillermo Rosete - takeover, artist, activist

Gloria Sanchez - supported takeover, worked at Neighborhood House (now Logan Clinic)

Pedro Sanchez - supported takeover, now a Catholic priest

David Savage - takeover - Brown Beret

Mario Solis - takeover, “Paul Revere” of Chicano Park, City College student, deceased

Joe Suarez - takeover, resident, former chair CPSC

Josie Talamantez - takeover, activist, resident, City College student

Salvador “Queso” Torres - takeover, artist, muralist, concept of public murals on pillars

Ronnie Trujillo - takeover, City College student

Charlene “Güera” Valencia - takeover, supporter

Rigoberto Vendiola - takeover, Brown Beret

...and the many others who have been forgotten.

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