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Brown Berets Of Barrio Logan Unite To Protect Community

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Aired 4/23/10

The San Diego neighborhood of Barrio Logan celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Chicano Park on Saturday. The park is under the onramp to the Coronado Bridge near downtown San Diego. It’s considered a legacy of the Chicano Power movement. A group called the Brown Berets has been a big part of that movement since the 1960s.

— The San Diego neighborhood of Barrio Logan celebrates the 40th Anniversary of Chicano Park on Saturday. The park is under the on-ramp to the Coronado Bridge near downtown San Diego. It’s considered a legacy of the Chicano Power movement. A group called the Brown Berets has been a big part of that movement since the 1960s.

David Rico Jr. (left), Irene Mena (center) and David Rico (right) are members of the Brown Berets de Aztlan.
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Above: David Rico Jr. (left), Irene Mena (center) and David Rico (right) are members of the Brown Berets de Aztlan.

Chicano Park, located south of downtown near the Coronado Bridge on-ramp, is covered in powerful murals documenting Mexican and Chicano history.
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Above: Chicano Park, located south of downtown near the Coronado Bridge on-ramp, is covered in powerful murals documenting Mexican and Chicano history.

Image of Chicano Park murals painted on concrete pillars which support the Coronado Bridge.
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Above: Image of Chicano Park murals painted on concrete pillars which support the Coronado Bridge.

Maintenance crews trim the grass of Chicano Park. Bright, colorful murals adorn concrete pillars that soar up to the freeway up above. Mothers stroll by holding children and shopping bags.

Before the 1960s, rows of houses stood here. They belonged to working class Latino families. But the families were pushed out and the homes were torn down to make way for a freeway and the Coronado Bridge.

City officials wanted to build a police substation on the remaining parcel of land – that's when the people of Barrio Logan united.

“My name is Irene Mena. I'm 81 years old. I am the mother of the Brown Berets.”

The Brown Berets served as the paramilitary arm of the Chicano Power movement in Barrio Logan during the 1960s and 1970s. Mena and her sons helped preserve what was left of the community. She still wears her brown beret despite some moth holes. As a youngster she saw her family being ordered to move.

“My mother bought a property right there on the side of the freeway and they cleared it out,” Mena recalls. “At that time, the neighborhoods were not warned about it. All of a sudden (families) received notices (they) are ordered to move out by a certain date.”

So the Brown Berets took matters into their own hands. They referred to themselves as Chicanos, meaning Mexican Americans committed to social change.

After a tense standoff with police and city officials, the berets and other activists took over the land intended for a new police substation and reclaimed it as Chicano Park.

“We were like soldiers. Soldiers for our community,” David Rico said, a founding member and commander of the Brown Berets. He said the brown beret symbolized Mexican American militancy. He said the murals reflect that.

“Our history and our politics are on those walls,” Rico said. “I don't care where you're from, you go and look at those murals and if you really study them, you know something happened here.”

“It was a struggle against oppression,” Isidro Ortiz said, a professor of Chicano and Chicana Studies at San Diego State University. He said Mexican American people during this time were struggling to assimilate yet make sense of their own cultural identity. They were faced with daily acts of discrimination.

“What groups do is they turn inward,” Ortiz said. “They turn inward to their own kind for acceptance, for pride and for culture. It's part of what we did. Those of us who struggled to find acceptance and finding denial of acceptance turned inward.”

“My name is David Rico Jr. and I'm from the Brown Berets de Aztlan. I'm 35 years old.”

David Jr., the son of founding member David Rico, represents the new generation of the Brown Berets. He says the group is about 100 members strong now in San Diego. David Jr. says he's honored to be following in his father's footsteps.

“When I put on a beret, I feel proud to be able to represent that history that they fought for in the 60s and 70s,” David Jr. said. “Blood sweat and tears. It makes me feel good in my heart that I’m putting on a symbol that says we’re going to stand up for our people. We’re going to educate our people.”

And David Jr. says Barrio Logan is once again under attack – this time by gentrification. As the redevelopment of downtown San Diego's East Village extends south, more and more homes and businesses in Barrio Logan are getting leveled and replaced. Proposals for a new football stadium could transform the community. David Jr. is now rallying the troops, much like his father did 40 years ago, to fight for the character of the community that Mexican Americans have claimed as their own.

“It's so historical as far as the movement goes. We can't let them take it away,” David Jr. said. “ We can't let them take our people out of there because it has such a rich history of the movement, Chicano power and Chicano Park. It’s just too much history that we can't let it be changed.”

And that’s why David Jr. said more berets are needed now than ever before.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Gabreal'

Gabreal | April 23, 2010 at 1:13 p.m. ― 4 years, 4 months ago

Great story. My family's history in this community goes back to the 1930's. My Great Grandfather owned the very first gas station in this area.
There is a lot of rich culture and history within this neighborhood. It should be preserved and protected. Thanks for shining light on the Brown Berets and this strong community. I hope others will join in and help to preserve Logan Heights.

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Avatar for user 'brown2'

brown2 | July 19, 2010 at 11:57 a.m. ― 4 years, 2 months ago

I hear that the brown berets are turning into a black panther party type of organization. Very sad, because those guys are just uneducated racists. They can't get what they want so they scream their little hearts out playing the race card that no one listens to anymore. I hope the brown berets don't go that route. It leads to nowhere.

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Avatar for user 'scottsixto'

scottsixto | November 12, 2012 at 11:33 a.m. ― 1 year, 10 months ago

I saw the film "Searching for Sugarman" last night. As a result of that and my research, I am starting to believe that the reason Sixto Rodriguez was denied musical stardom in the US was not because "his records didn't sell", but because of his affiliation with the Brown Berets at a time when the Establishment was terrified of them. Of course, I have no proof as yet, and I wonder if I would live very long if I did, but I do frankly suspect that powerful political and economic interests decided that Rodriguez had to be prevented from reaching a mass audience by any means necessary. In short, he was too radical AND too good, and thus too dangerous for Amerikan fascism. He may have instinctively felt that, had he continued to seek major fame (like what he had in South Africa and Australia), he would have met the same fate that John Lennon eventually met. I only posted this seemingly immaterial comment here brcause I have been unable to post it anywhere else (e.g., on aztlan.net or Brown Beret websites).

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Avatar for user 'HHFLORRI'

HHFLORRI | July 31, 2013 at 4:49 p.m. ― 1 year, 1 month ago

SALUDES A DAVID RICO. I met you at the annual event on Chicano Park about 4 years ago. I told you about a Plan that i was working on. The Plan is called "The Aztlantica Plan" will be published on Oct 2013. It is a plan for the future empowerment of the community. It has six sub-plans to cover all area of concern. It will be a national organization. Its about creating a new world for the future.

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