Sunday, January 26, 2014

Playing Tourist in San Diego - Point Loma and Chicano Park

In keeping with the theme of tourist-in-my-own-city I bring to you two more must-see San Diego destinations: Point Loma and Chicano Park. Let's begin with Point Loma, specifically the Cabrillo National Monument and its spectacular view of San Diego Bay.
Cabrillo was a Portuguese conquistador who helped defeat the Aztecs with their weapons and European germs. He then settled in Guatemala, became a ship builder, and was appointed by the governor to explore the Pacific in search of a trading route. About one hundred days into his voyage he sailed into the bay and, much to the chagrin of the native Kumeyaay that had already been living there for thousands of years, claimed the land for Spain. 
Now he is memorialized in the form of a white statue that sits in a circular plaza at the top of a hill overlooking the harbor with Fort Rosecrans at his back. People go to the Cabrillo Monument to hike, explore the tide pools, check out the old lighthouse, learn about the area's military history, and try their luck at spotting a whale. Many visitors don't realize that they can rent binoculars for free just by leaving a photo ID with the folks at the gift shop. Like the true nerds we are, my family jumped at the chance to sport some scientific bling.
We had a few false starts ("I see one! No, wait, that's a boat...) and didn't see any whales but we still had a good time searching for them through the binoculars. After getting our fill of history in windy Point Loma we drove to the Gaslamp district in downtown for linner.
Then, right as the sun had set, we made our way to Chicano Park, which, if you read the Yelp reviews, isn't a wise thing to do. Either those reviewers are just generally afraid of the dark, or brown people, or homeless people, or all three, but we didn't have any problems (although that could be contributed to James, my brother, whose physique and demeanor tends to instill respect from strangers. That or they think he's Pitbull).
If you know my family personally then you know that we are outspoken advocates for social justice so visiting Chicano Park was like seeing our beliefs in painting. The history of the park is phenomenal and I could probably write a dissertation on it so if you're looking for in-depth information you must read this and this. The very condensed version is that the Chicanos that had lived in the neighborhood of Logan Heights for decades since the early-to-mid 1900s saw their area rezoned, after World War 2, so the city of San Diego could find a place they deemed less important in order to dump junk yards ("yonkes"), metal shops, and "other toxic businesses incompatible with a residential community". 
Later, in the 60s, many families were displaced and the community was literally torn apart after Interstate 5 and the Coronado Bridge were built, dropping concrete pillars in the midst of what had once been home to a reported 5,000 people. 
Then, in April of 1970, adding insult to injury, a young Chicano man came across a construction crew that was about to start bulldozing the remaining area under the "concrete jungle" to build a parking lot for a highway patrol station. This came as a surprise to him, and the rest of the Logan Heights residents, as they had been promised a park, not a parking lot. So they joined en masse at the construction site to protest and take their promised land back - much like an original Occupy Movement, 40 years prior to the occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City.
For twelve days the Chicano community peacefully defended the park, cleared the land, and cultivated it. Eventually an agreement was made between the residents and the city and the land was officially designated as a community park. Soon after the colorful murals began to appear on the once plain and devastating bridges with depictions of the struggle and rise of the Chicano movement and the Mexican Raza and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It is a fascinating park, rich with history, full of exciting energy that seeps into your soul, and undeniably awesome.   

I hope you've enjoyed this unexpected, amateur history lesson and will visit these two places if you're ever in San Diego. And if you want to join me I'll be at the annual Chicano Park Day Celebration for my first time this coming April. Happy Sunday and remember, la gente unida jamas sera vencida!


Anonymous said...

Lovely post. Been to Chicano Park before but never did any research to learn about the history. Learned a lot here so thanks! And great pics.


Anonymous said...

Nanita, one of the best postings, and I loved them all. Thank you for the history and insight. I'll share it with all my friends whom will love it!!!
Thank you! I'm so proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pictures. Don't forget to see La Jolla and all cities in between if you haven't already. I liked the walk along the shore, watching the seals, dining and the shop with a cave that tunnels down to the water's edge in La Jolla.