Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: August 16 Team Log

The Center of the World — A Tale of Courage and Cultural Pride

Before our story, here’s some cultural knowledge we’ve learned recently that you should know first:

Aztlan"Aztlan" is the name of the "Aztec homeland," the place where the Aztecs came from before they built their city of Tenochtitlan. It was located around what is today San Diego and Tijuana.

"Aztlan" is also the name people give to the land that used to be Mexico but was taken by the US in 1848. So the name Aztlan has very important meaning to many people. Some people think that Chicano Park, in Barrio Logan, southeast San Diego, is one of the only pieces of "liberated land" in all of Aztlan.

Barrio Logan is itself referred to as "el ombligo", which means belly button. And just like you might think your belly button is the center of your body, Barrio Logan is considered by some to be the center of the world. It's also named Logan Heights, but it has always been known as a predominantly Mexican-American community. Mexican-Americans have lived here since the early 1890s.

Now that you understand the background, here’s a tale of some brave people who struggled to achieve what was important to them:

In 1963 the Golden State freeway, Interstate 5, was built right through Barrio Logan. In 1969 the Coronado Bay Bridge opened: they built the bridge on huge concrete supports constructed in the heart of the barrio. By 1979, community pride was hurting: only 5,000 people lived here, down from 20,000 in 1930.

RunnerNone of the locals realized the city had a choice about where to build the Coronado Bay Bridge. Many people who lived here just put up with new construction that they didn't like, without realizing they could collect petitions or speak out. But, by June of 1969, some community leaders decided to act!

The state of California agreed, after some discussions, that Barrio Logan could build their own park on 1.8 acres of land, right below the bridge. So, residents looked forward to seeing the bulldozers that drove in to the land on April 22, 1970. They thought it was time for their park to be cleared…But no!

Instead, the bulldozers were there to create a new California Highway Patrol station. CHIPS where there was supposed to be a neighborhood park! Well, people decided to get mad (make a difference). Mario Solis went door to door, rounding up protestors. Students left their classes and ran straight to the park. People all over the barrio worked together: they formed a human chain around the bulldozers, forcing the workmen to stop their construction. Then, in an act of defiance, some individuals started planting cactus, magueys, and flowers on the land. ("Maguey" is a sacred plant of the Aztecs. It is used to make "pulque," a sacred drink.)

They also raised the Chicano flag right in the middle of the construction. Later on, about 250 demonstrators met at a neighborhood community center. Here were the three demands they made:

  1. The property the Chicanos want for a park belongs to the highway patrol.
  2. It is up to the city of San Diego to negotiate with the highway patrol for it.
  3. There will he no further work on construction of a highway patrol station at the site.
Virgin of GuadalupeThe strikers decided to reconvene at the park at 7:30 the next morning. Students, being more active, decided to camp out all night, to make sure bulldozers didn't start up again. Have you ever camped out all night for concert tickets? These students made it their mission to stay up all night.

The next day the city council met with the students and residents. Jose Gomez, vice-president of City College, said "The only way to take that park away is to wade through our blood." Salvador Torres, a local artist, said he envisioned a space where local Chicano painters and sculptors could turn the bridge pylons into beautiful things reflecting Mexican-American culture. He shouted, "We are ready to DIE!" Students began to stamp their feet, shouting "Viva la raza!" One student said this:

"The word culture is used. To you culture means Taco Bell and the funny Mexican with the funny songs. We gave you our culture of a thousand years. What have you given us? A social system that makes us beggars and police who make us afraid. We've got the land and we are going to work it. We are going to get that park. We no longer talk about asking. We have the park."

PrideBy this time, word of the occupation of Chicano Park spread throughout Orange County. Students from Los Angeles and all the way from Santa Barbara traveled to Barrio Logan to stand firm with the protestors.

Finally, after 12 days of camping out at the site, negotiations began. After many talks and many meetings, residents were finally rewarded. They triumphed! And they celebrated Chicano Park Day one year later, on April 22, 1970. Over 1000 people gathered as a symbol of community organization.

The lesson to be learned? You can work together to save your community-you have to work together as a team towards a common goal. Salvador Torres's dream came true. Three groups, Los Artistas delos Barnos, Los Toltecas en Aztlarz and El Congresso de Artistas Chicanos en Aztlan put together the murals that are now here for you to see. Viva la raza!


Other dispatches from today: 
Silvia: Her take on Old Town - San Diego.
Monica: Journal Entry

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