Chicano Park is an almost 8 acre park located beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan, a predominantly Chicano or Mexican American and Mexican-migrant community in central San Diego, California. The park is also home to the country’s largest collection of outdoor murals (sorry, Wynwood) with the overall flavor of the art being Mexican political and revolutionary themes; an outdoor cathedral to community activism.
How did this unique park come about? Allow me to share a little history lesson, yes?
In the early 20th century, the area had been a sturdy middle-class neighborhood, a neighborhood that breached all the way to San Diego Bay, with waterfront access for the residents. Things changed, however, when World War II broke out, and the neighborhood lost its beach to the Navy and defense industries. Then during the 1950s, the area was rezoned as mixed residential and industrial. Alas, at this time, Mexicans were accustomed to not being included in discussions concerning their communities and to not being represented by their officials, so no formal complaint was lodged.
In the 1960s, the California Department of Transportation built the I-5 freeway through the area, demolishing homes and splitting the neighborhood in two (sounds like a certain neighborhood in Miami, yes?). Residents were promised that the land under the Coronado Bridge would be turned into a park, something the community had wanted for years.
However, on April 22, 1970, residents learned that the promise had been rescinded and the land would be used for a California Highway Patrol station. The local community rallied quickly to halt construction. Hundreds of men, women and children converged on the site, forming a human chain around bulldozers. They occupied the space for 12 days, attracting the attention of government officials.
Mexican artist Salvador Torres proposed to transform the bridge’s massive concrete pylons into a towering canvas for expression in the spirit of the Mexican Mural Movement and in 1971, the formation of Chicano Park was signed into law. Mural painting would begin two years later.
Torres, together with many local artists including Guillermo Aranda, Yolanda Lopez and Victor Ochoa, and groups such as Toltecas en Aztlan and Congresso de Artistas Chicanos en Aztlan, continued to guide the aesthetic development. As years passed, more artists from across California were invited to contribute, producing a range of Pre-Colombian, colonial, modern and contemporary imagery.
In 2011 and 2012, almost two dozen murals were restored with federal funding. Many of the original artists did the work themselves, aided by friends and family. In December 2016, Chicano Park was designated a National Historic Landmark. This status recognizes the artistic, cultural and sociopolitical significance of the park and preserves the space for future generations.
And why was I in San Diego in the first place, you ask? I was photographing a leadership trip there with the good folks from the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. The trip featured three full days of panel discussions and meetings with business and community leaders from the fields of transportation, housing, arts, healthcare, education and more. I arrived a day early so after starting my day at Balboa Park (check out the photographs HERE), I paid a visit to Chicano Park. I snapped several images with my Sony A7RV using the very street photographer friendly Sony FE 24–105mm F4 G lens. I also snapped a few wide-angle shots with my iPhone 13 Pro (can you tell the difference?). Not the most ideal time of day as I was battling a bright setting sun but I think the photographs still pretty much speak for themselves. Enjoy…
“Leyes” – La Familia (1975) by artist José Montoya and the Royal Chicano Air Force
“Amor, Si Se Puede,” (2018) is a collaboration between immigrant-rights group Border Angels and artist Salvador Barajas, who was involved in painting the first murals at Chicano Park. The 12-by-20 mural illustrates scenes of a family reuniting at the border and day laborers receiving aid from Border Angels volunteers.
(L-R) “¿Por qué Nosotros?” (1996) by artists Mario Torero, Carmen Kalo Linares and FUERZA Team and “Cosmic Clowns” (1974) by artist collective Congreso de Artistas Chicanos en Aztlán (CACA): Mario Torero, Pablo de la Rosa, Tomás “Coyote” Castañeda and Felipe Barboza.
“Mujer Cósmica” (1975) by artists Esteban Villa and Ricardo Favela
Mictlantecuhtli (the Mexican god of the dead) (2021) by Hector ‘Mexikota Art’ Villegas is one of the most recent murals commemorating historic Chicano Park’s 50th anniversary.
From (L-R) A statue of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (2004) by artist Arturo Singh, “La Trinidad Es Amor” (1997) by artist Raul José Jaquez and the local restroom (a piece of “art” in its own right).
Stunning “Historical Mural” (1973) by artists Toltecas en Aztlán, Salvador Barajas, Guillermo Aranda, Arturo Román, Victor Ochoa, José Cervantes, Guillermo Rosette, Gilbert “Magu” Lujan, Daniel de Los Reyes and students from M.E.Ch.A.(Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan), a ChicanX/LatinX organization from University of California Irvine.
“Colossus” (1975) by artists Mario Torero and Congreso de Artistas Chicanos en Aztlán (CACA)
At the end of the day, I probably walked around only a portion of the park. Despite a warm afternoon, I learned that it gets cold in San Diego pretty fast and my light jacket over a t-shirt wasn’t going to cut it. I did enjoy one hell of a burger at Hayes Burger (with a delicious tangerine Swell Soda) right across from the park before heading back to my hotel. It was a good day…