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Border delegation in San Diego: Chicano Park, Barrio Logan tour and meeting with Aztlan Youth

By brad

Mural in Chicano Park.

San Diego, CA – On April 2, part of the Legalization for All Network’s border delegation spent the day in San Diego, the city on the U.S. side of the border across from Tijuana, México.

The group of immigrant rights activists from Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chicago and Minnesota spent the day in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood.

They started with a tour of Chicano Park at the heart of the neighborhood, and then did a walkthrough of the surrounding neighborhood.

As a border city on land that was part of Mexico until 1848, until the U.S.’s theft of the states that are now the southwestern part of the U.S., parts of San Diego are strongly marked by Chicano culture.

Robert Vivar, bi-national coordinator at Via international, and Rigo Reyes, community development director at Via Migrante, explained the history of Chicano Park to the group, a park that is now an officially recognized federal historical landmark.

In the park there is a series of massive murals telling the history of the struggle of the Chicano people who were forged as a people in the struggle against colonization, national oppression, brutality from police and ICE, and exploitation.

53 years ago in 1970, Chicano community activists occupied and then took control over Chicano Park to have a community-controlled space to tell their story and organize activities in their community, which was being threatened with high levels of pollution from the highway passing over it as well as polluting industries, including military contractors, and gentrification.

The massive colorful murals in the park are painted on the large pillars that hold up the highway overpasses that go over the park, bringing life to an area that would otherwise be drab and forgotten.

The 1970 community takeover had to fight against both the city of San Diego and the state of California for control of the park, as the state wanted to use the space under the highway for a Highway Patrol station. After winning control of the space through militant struggle, a Chicano Park Steering Committee was formed, which controls the park to this day. The building at the edge of the park hosts a Chicano Park museum.

Every April, members of the community organize Chicano Park Day commemoration of the April 22, 1970 takeover of the park. They also hold many community events in the park.

The day that the border delegation visited, there was a large Palm Sunday ceremony as well as a lowrider car and bike show. There were also posters around the park advertising the upcoming May 1 International Workers Day march.

After learning about the history of the park and the meaning of many of the images depicted in the murals, the delegation got a block-by-block tour through Barrio Logan with Chicano Park Steering Committee member Lucas Cruz.

He explained the struggle to preserve Chicano culture, identity and political consciousness in the neighborhood. This includes struggles against gentrification, rent gouging and businesses that want to move into the neighborhood while either erasing the Chicano character of the neighborhood or co-opting Chicano culture opportunistically without a connection to the Chicano community or movement. It also includes struggles to prevent police brutality and over-policing of Chicano youth, and struggling with some business owners to not default to calling the police into the community for every problem they encounter.

Cruz talked to the group about the history of the Chicano people while describing one of the murals in Chicano Park. The Chicano people were forged into a nationality in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Mexico and then the imposed Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The people in the states that the U.S. seized in 1848 that currently are the southwestern states of the U.S., began to live a different reality than both Mexicans in México and people in the rest of the United States. The awakening of the Chicano liberation movement in the late 1960s led to the Plan Spiritual de Aztlan that identified the land base of the Chicano liberation struggle as the territory seized by the U.S. in 1848 and the struggle as one for self-determination on that land, named Aztlan.

This Chicano national consciousness can be seen in distinctive features of Chicano culture and language that continue to this day as well as with the persistence of Chicano organizations such as MEChA, Brown Berets, among others.

After the neighborhood tour with Cruz, the delegation met with two leaders of Aztlan Youth, a Chicano organization based in Barrio Logan. They heard from two women leaders of Aztlan Youth, Rocky and Briana. They talked about the struggles young Chicanos are engaged in in Barrio Logan, like the struggle against the effects of environmental racism including the high rates of asthma and other medical conditions in the community due to the decades of corporate and government decisions to pollute their neighborhood. They talked about the continual struggle to make sure young Chicanos learn their culture, history and identity, since those things aren’t usually taught in schools.

After meeting with Aztlan Youth, the delegation got to visit the Tommie Camarillo Collection, a meticulously-maintained archive of posters, buttons, newspapers, photos, videos, music and other materials going back more than 50 years documenting the history of the Chicano liberation movement with a strong focus on the history of the struggle over Chicano Park.

The day as a whole gave the participants in the border delegation a grounding in the struggles of the Chicano community in the border town of San Diego, and a deeper understanding of the basis of modern-day anti-immigrant politics in the history of oppression and theft of land from Mexico and the forging of the Chicano people in the borderlands and the Southwest.

#SanDiegoCA #immigrantRights #USMexicoBorder #LegalizationForAllNetworkL4A