One of the most colorful destinations in San Diego is just blocks away from downtown, but chances are you have driven over it and not even known it.
Chicano Park is obscured in the shadows beneath San Diego-Coronado Bridge. More than 70 vibrantly colored murals adorn the underpasses and concrete beams. The murals pay tribute to the history of the surrounding Mexican-American and immigrant community, Barrio Logan.
The park has a pretty fascinating story. Like other low-income urban communities in the mid-20th century, Barrio Logan was rezoned to mix residential and industrial, opening it up to high concentrations of polluting and noisy industries. The neighborhood was further divided by the construction of the 5 Freeway and the elevated on-ramps of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. City leaders didn’t involve residents in discussions and planning, though the Council had promised the community a park in exchange for more than 5,000 homes and businesses bulldozed to construct the freeway.
Ironic, given the freeway’s role in the creation of the eventual park, when we went looking for it, Google Maps mistakenly placed it ON the freeway overpass and sent us helplessly detouring to Coronado Island.
One day in 1970, a local college student came across construction beginning at the site of the proposed park. When he asked what was going on the workers told him they were breaking ground for a new parking lot for the California Highway Patrol. The student went door to door to inform his neighbors what was happening, and by that evening, hundreds of concerned community members had gathered to protest the construction and eventually, construction was called off. Demonstrations lasted for 12 days while the city negotiated with the community, eventually agreeing to a park on that contested parcel and adjacent freeway overpasses. Artists petitioned to create public art in the space and Chicano Park was born.
The artists painted stories using symbolism of Aztec and indigenous cultures. California farmworkers, César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and the logo of the United Farm Workers are repeated symbols. In addition, the murals reference the struggles of people around the world and their revolutionary leaders. Mexican muralists David Siquieros, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Clemente Orozco are also featured prominently. Local struggles over land rights, pollution, and various sorts of disinvestment are also documented. Murals painted 30 years ago speak to ongoing struggles over poverty, immigration, and human rights
It’s an inspiring space–a park designed, decorated and fought for and by the people of the community. I can’t begin to understand all of the symbolism in these paintings, but I appreciate the passion that inspired their creation and continues to inspire residents and visitors today.
The park celebrates it’s 43rd anniversary this year with a Chicano Park Day festival on April 20! Check it out if you are in San Diego.