Kongo told John as they were driving down to the Barrio that it was always better to go with at least one other person. That way, if someone starts shooting at you in a drive-by your odds of getting hit are cut in half! Ouch. Not really. What a Anglo-monkey stereotypical thing for Kongo to say! It’s really not like that at all. The Barrio is actually quiet and the park was quite safe although several people seem to have been camping out there for some time. Maybe it’s not a place you want to walk your dog at midnight but in the early evening it was fine and the rapidly shifting light played magic on the murals.
The murals by artists from all over California decorate the bridge supports. While the cars are whizzing and rattling overhead the beauty just beneath the freeway is something special.
The area known was first known as the East End and in 1890 it was renamed Logan Heights. Mexican settlers began arriving in the 1890s and then a flood of refugees arrived starting in 1910 as they fled the violence of the Mexican Revolution. So many immigrants from Mexico lived in the area it eventually became known as Barrio Logan and it remains the center of Hispanic culture in the San Diego area.
When Interstate 5 and the Coronado Bridge were built in the 1960s more than 5,000 homes and businesses in the barrio were destroyed to make way for progress. Naturally, this caused quite a bit of animosity among the residents of Barrio Logan who were already pretty agitated because they were often left out of discussions about community planning and city growth by the local government. It was also the time of Caesar Chavez and the organization of migrant workers in California and the Hispanic community was beginning to feel empowered. The Chicano Civil Rights movement was in full swing. Well, the city council promised the residents a park, which they had been requesting for a long time. Instead of a park, bull dozers showed up with a plan to turn the area under the bridge into a parking lot for the California Highway Patrol.
That turned out to be one indignity too many and in April 1970 the residents fought back by occupying the area and forming human shields to prevent the construction. Trees and flowers were planted along with a few cactus. It was a great fiesta and went on 24/7 for twelve days. Finally the city council caved and agreed to fulfill the promise of turning the area into a park. The first murals went up three years later and they have been adding to it ever since.
One thing to keep in mind when you visit the park: Keep an open mind. There are murals of Che and Fidel and Ho Chi Minh. There are also many religious murals and some that depict the community’s unhappiness with nearby shipyards and their perceived impact on the environment. Some may find the “Raza” theme as anti-American but in Kongo’s view THIS is America. Maybe not mainstream but America none the less and the murals embody, at least in the monkey’s simian brain, the great diversity that makes us such a great nation. Well, so much for monkey philosophy.
When you’re in San Diego next, before going over the bridge to have afternoon tea at the Hotel Del, go under the bridge and check out Chicano Park. The architecture of the bridge construction, the constantly changing light as the sun passes through the openings created by the roadways, the beautiful murals, fountains, and sculpture will add a bit of adventure to your visit to America’s Finest City.
Travel safe. Have fun.