March 1, 2002

Inzunza Takes Credit for "César Chávez Parkway": Chicano Artist Left Out

By Yvette tenBerge

As local politicians pat themselves on the back over their latest contribution to the Hispanic community ­ the renaming of a Barrio Logan street in honor of César Chávez ­ the Chicano artist who has campaigned for this change since 1995 goes unrecognized for his part in it.

On Monday, February 25, the city of San Diego honored the late Mexican-American civil rights leader by voting unanimously to change the name of the heavily trafficked Crosby Street to "César E. Chávez Parkway." According to a February 26 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the council's approval marked a "year-long effort to honor the farm labor leader," and Councilman Ralph Inzunza, Jr. was credited with being the person who "led the renaming effort."

Artist, Mario Torero, in his studio with a map outlining his idea for César Chávez Boulevard.

Step into the art studio of Mario Torero, 54, though, and it quickly becomes clear that the entire story behind this renaming project has not been told. When asked about the name change Mr. Torero, a Peruvian-born artist and activist, unveils an enlarged map of Southeast San Diego. He runs his finger along Crosby Street, which begins in Barrio Logan, and continues northeast to the southern tip of Sherman Heights. He then traces 25th Street north through Sherman Heights and into Golden Hills. These two streets are highlighted in yellow.

"Since 1995, I have been promoting César Chávez Boulevard, and everybody knows this," says Mr. Torero, who pulls out a black binder plastered with the words "Master Plan." He thumbs though a series of maps, pamphlets, photographs and news articles. "In 1996, I expanded the idea to include 25th Street in order to unite Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights and Golden Hills."

Barrio Logan is bounded by 16th Street to the north, 32nd Street to the south, Harbor Drive to the west and Interstate 5 to the east. Once part of Logan Heights, it became known as Barrio Logan when the construction of Interstate 5 in 1964 split the community of Logan Heights in half.

The community of Logan Heights lies north of Barrio Logan, and its boundaries are Interstate 5, Commercial Avenue and 28th Street. Running the length of 25th Street are the communities of Sherman Heights and Golden Hills. Together, these four communities make up roughly half of Southeast San Diego.

Mr. Torero explains that divisions between these neighboring, predominantly Hispanic communities occurred as early as the 1970s. "In the 70s, drugs created gangs. When guns were introduced, our kids started shooting each other," says Mr. Torero, who states that his own niece was shot in the face in Barrio Logan's Chicano Park in the late 1970s. "This gang warfare separated the barrios, and our kids today are still stigmatized by these divisions."

In order to combat this problem, Mr. Torero developed the "Master Plan," a project whose goals are to join the corridor of Golden Hill Park to the San Diego Bay. "The reason behind this was not just to honor a great leader; it was to unite our communities. Over the years, we have done walks, planted trees and created dialogue between the barrios," says Mr. Torero, who celebrates the renaming of Crosby Street, but laments the decision not to include 25th Street. "We were doing this to unite, but now, the barrios are even more divided."

Richard Ybarra, 53, is Cesar Chavez' son-in-law and the partner of a local public relations firm. He confirms that Mr. Torero proposed "César Chávez Boulevard" as early as 1996. "When Mario came to me with the idea, I asked him why Crosby Street. He told me, `Every day thousands of cars will pass by the sign on the freeway and while crossing the Coronado Bridge,'" says Mr. Ybarra. "It was brilliant."

Mr. Ybarra states that there is "no question in [his] mind" that the idea for the renaming project originated with Mr. Torero and claims to have approached both Councilman Inzunza and Mr. Torero last year to suggest that they put their "forces together" to make this idea happen. "The idea for this project was wonderful, but at some point you have to let go of your ideas and pass them onto others who can carry them the rest of the way," says Mr. Ybarra.

Few would dispute the fact that the support of a politician is key in actually getting projects such as these passed. Although the renaming project has been in the works on some level for more than six years, Mr. Inzunza's decision to push it through only one week before the March 5 primary for his re-election as District 8 Councilman appears to be more than just coincidence.

Mr. Inzunza did not respond to La Prensa San Diego's inquiries into this matter.

According to the February 26 Union-Tribune article, "Chávez supporters noted with pride the lack of opposition to the renaming project, saying it was a sign of San Diego's growing tolerance of its diverse communities." After reading this, Mr. Torero, who was not notified of the February 25 ceremony or of the fact that the street was to be renamed at all, cannot help but laugh. "For five years these people were shining me on, saying `no' to the idea, and maybe even being upset by my determination. Of course there was no resistance to this idea. The people have wanted this for years," says Mr. Torero. "We were all for this."

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