La Tierra Mia: Confronting Lies & Ignorance From Outside Forces On Chicano Park

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A shot of the Kiosko which sits at the center of Chicano Park. Photo Credit: Annie Ross, sitting member of the Chicano Park Steering Committee.
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Chicano Park logo, originally designed by Rico Bueno. Photo Credit: Roberto Camacho

Here in San Diego CA, the media, especially local news media has shown a particular affinity to report on all the manufactured controversies, fallacies, misinformation and blatant lies abound that local white nationalists, alt-right fanatics, right-wing extremist and other bigoted individuals/agitators who fall into this wide umbrella of hate. Of course, this is all in an attempt to tarnish, mar and ultimately cloud the history and legacy of Chicano Park and the people who love and protect it. It goes without saying, time and time again that the media continually handles this contingent with velvet gloves, rarely pushing back on even their most obvious, blatant inaccuracies. If anything, the local media more often than not, are complicit abettors. With the exception of a select few publications that have taken a stance to actively push back against false narratives with their coverage, most are more than happy to serve effectively as platforms for which these small groups of ignorant, backward people are able to utilize as a megaphone to further perpetuate their bigotry.

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Video still featured in the DACA Shame and Bridge Trolls article in San Diego City Beat’s September 6, 2017 issue. Photo Credit: Roberto Camacho.

However, rarely, if ever do these same media outlets and entities discuss the history of the community prior to and leading up the liberation of Chicano Park with the same tenacity and vigor. Seldom do they explore the history of Barrio Logan, the conditions within the community in the decades and years leading up to the Park’s founding. The resentment which grew when the neighborhood was re-zoned as mixed residential and industrial in the 1950’s. The junk yards and industrial repair shops that moved into the Barrio creating air pollution, noise pollution and other numerous aesthetic conditions that were completely unsuitable and would never be tolerated in another, more affluent residential area. They fail to discuss the injustice which is imminent domain, to even touch on the resentment which continued to grow as the Barrio was cleaved in two by Interstate 5 and was further hacked and divided by the elevated on-ramps of the Coronado Bridge in the 1960’s.

They fail to mention the fact that the City Council had promised to build the community a park to compensate for the loss of over 5,000 homes and businesses; which were displaced for the construction of the freeway and bridge, as well as for the aesthetic degradation of the Barrio created by the concrete fortress of overhead freeways. Only for the city to go back on its word and attempt to build a highway patrol station in a already stigmatized and over-policed community. To this day the media still regularly fails the residents of Barrio Logan, refusing to report the ever advancing threat of gentrification, skyrocketing rent and property costs, and overtly-aggressive and hostile police who stalk the park and patrol in the community. These same outlets and institutions not only fail to report the most basic history which is readily and easily accessible. They ultimately fail to address or even acknowledge the most obvious grievances and injustices (some which still still persist to this day day), as well as their significance which were the catalysts for the people of Barrio Logan reclaiming the space for the people that would ultimately become Chicano Park.

Today, I hope to change that. If you have not already I implore you all reading to view the documentary Chicano Park, a short film from 1988 directed by Marilyn Mulford. It is perhaps one, if not thee most comprehensive documentaries detailing the history of Barrio Logan and Chicano Park. Exploring the various circumstances, grievances, broken promises and injustices endured by the community which would eventually drive its residents to take action. Likewise, the film delves into the history of many of the murals throughout the park. Chronicling their their meanings, inspirations and the philosophy behind much of the artwork, all from the mouths of artists themselves. The film also features interviews from prominent muralists Victor Ochoa, Salvador Roberto Torres and Yolanda Lopez, the late Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez, Jose Elijio Gomez, founder and first chairman of the Chicano Park Steering Committee; as well as other prominent founding figures and voices from the community who were instrumental not only the Park’s founding, but in its growth, well being and vitality in the following years and decades which continues all the way up to present day.

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A shot of vendors and park goers gathered for Chicano Park Day 2016. Photo Credit: Roberto Camacho.

There is an African proverb where one interpretation goes, “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter“. The same principle likewise extends to the media, the state and anyone else looking from the outside in when it comes to the documentation and facilitation of our own communities’s histories, struggles and achievements. We cannot trust in good faith alone for others to do the proper research of our own history. We cannot expect them to care about the intricacies and nuance which make up our rich and beautiful culture. And in the end, we cannot with confidence entrust that they will have the best intentions of our communities, neighborhoods and sacred spaces at hand. Because, history simply does not show that to be the case. However, with that said we are not lions. We are proud, hard working men and women. We have the tools and the means at hand to accurately teach and share our history with more people and the rest of the world than ever before. As proud Chicanos and Chicanas we are the historians, the groundskeepers, the gatekeepers and the protectors of our history. And one of the first steps involves taking agency and ownership of our own stories. Controlling the content and being the sole authors of our own narratives allows us to not only tell our stories louder, it sends the message that those who do twist and distort our history will be met and dealt with swift, active resistance by a strong and unified community. So it is my hope is today, for everyone one who reads this and cares about Chicano Park and all Chicano history that we all take the time to share it and make sure our history is told correctly. I hope you all take the time to watch this documentary; and if you have already viewed in then I sincerely hope that you share it again so that more can see the beauty, wonder and resilience that is not only Chicano Park but the people of Barrio Logan.

In the words of activist and artist Yolanda Lopez, who took part in the Park’s occupation and was interviewed for the documentary, “There’s greater meaning beyond simply the neighborhood now, there’s a sense of almost a memorial to all the little barrios that exist across the country where working class people live. We’re not going to go down easily.” These words ring true, the same as they did over forty years ago. Chicano Park is much more than just an ordinary, regular public park. We recognize this, the city recognized this, as a National Historic Landmark it is safe to say that not only this country but people throughout the world recognize this. Chicano Park is a testament and monument to Chicano/Chicana resilience, perseverance and self-determination. And it is agency and autonomy such as this, that is exactly what infuriates, enrages and terrifies the small group of pitiful, hateful, insecure people who wish to cause trouble and do harm to both Chicano Park and the greater community at large. In the words of musician and activists Immortal Technique we must, “Confront ignorance and lies. Give them no safe place to rest, no quarter, no excuses, no moments to sleep”. That time is now, whether it be these hateful individuals, or the media proxies which continue to mainstream and normalize their lies. It time we actively confronted ignorance and lies we know to be false. I hope that you all join us at Chicano Park, Saturday February 3rd to stand in solidarity; as we all come together in unity and solidarity. To defend the community, to defend the Barrio, to defend Chicano Park.

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Members of Unión del Barrio gathered in front the Emiliano Zapata statue following the first ‘Patriot Picnic’ protest last September. Photo Credit: Roberto Camacho

NOTE: If you are attending Saturday’s action we ask that you please respect the requests and wishes of the Chicano Park Steering Committee and the Brown Berets de Aztlán to ensure the safety of both park goers and the surrounding community. Thank You.

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